“We let a lot of people down”, the captain of the South African cricket team, Faf du Plessis, said despairingly at a press conference after a consolation victory against Sri Lanka.
After much of the talk centered around how South Africa’s battery of fast bowlers, Steyn and Morkel in the main, would mow down the Indians ahead of their recent series, I can only conclude following the culmination of their duel in Africa, that it was in fact the Indians that scored a moral victory of sorts.
The three-match series that ebbed and flowed after India were run over by the Proteas in the first Test at Centurion, finally ended in a 1-1 series stalemate at Newlands on Thursday.
India, if they had played their cards right, could have come out on top to win a series for the first time in South Africa. It was the first time, in fact, that India had drawn a series in that country, which must have made the Indians believe they are close to attaining the elusive series success.
In fact, it was South Africa who capitulated to the Indian attack at Kingsmead, as their opponents ensured they were better prepared to handle the express pace of the South Africans after the Centurion disaster.
Not to say that India were found wanting in the fast bowling department as Sree Sreesanth and Zaheer Kahn gave the South Africans a taste of their own medicine in the second Test. Of course the India pace attack is nowhere near as quick as that of the Proteas, but their impeccable line and length bowling aided and abetted by Harbhajan Sing, had most of the South Africans in a knot at Kingsmead.
That the Proteas could only muster 131 and 235 in their two innings’ in Durban showed just how more astute the less-fancied Indians were.
Even Jacques Kallis failed in that Test, as the competitive Indians kept South Africa in check. Also, if South Africa’s fast bowling attack is as great as it is mooted to be, why could they only manage three wickets on the fifth day of the Newlands Test that saw the sides drawing the series?
Of course, it was Kallis who together with little cameos from his supporting batsmen Boucher in particular, managed to stave off possible defeat for South Africa in the decider. At 130/6 South Africa would know how close in fact they were to defeat, until they were shepherded to safety by “King Kallis”.
India has shown in this series that South Africa’s top six with a certain exception, has a tendency to be a bit brittle. Morkel and Steyn, are practically unplayable on green tops and especially when the ball is new, but as was proven at Newlands, they are less effective when the shine comes off the “red cherry”.
South Africa media and commentators talk up Morkel because at 6ft 7in he can bang it in… and bang it in short. Try as he might, the Indians on that final day at Newlands countered him and countered him with aplomb. Morkel has a tendency to be too erratic at times.
Steyn is the number one bowler in the world, and has definitely given fast bowling a new edge. The problem is his support in the form of back-up bowlers is not always giving him the back-up he needs. Spinner Paul Harris, while being able to bowl economical spells, is prone to bowling too defensive a line when the batsmen are attacking him, and cannot seem to take wickets regularly, even on a cabbage patch of a pitch. Compare him to Harbhajan and it’s like the proverbial chalk and cheese.
You simply have to give it to the Indians. They came to South Africa with everybody thinking, including me, they’ll be canon fodder, only to show that they’ve got the skill and the nous to make a fist of it.
Yes, they were overpowered in the first Test at Centurion, but winning the toss on that first day was crucial for South Africa.
Make no mistake, South Africa have a quality bowling attack, and arguably one of the best ever batsmen in Jacques Kallis. But it seems arrogance will always get the better of them.