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Friday, July 20, 2018

India vs South Africa: For visitors, a pot of gold at the end of Rainbow

No matter the result of the third match, the team’s poor show in the series will soon be forgotten, thanks to the upcoming IPL auction and limited-overs cricket.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Johannesburg | Updated: January 24, 2018 9:23:54 am
India vs South Africa, India tour of South Africa 2018, Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri, AJinkya Rahane, sports news, cricket, Indian Express India captain Virat Kohli doesn’t agree with coach Ravi Shastri that the players were under-prepared for the Test series. (Source: AP)

Of course it’s a coincidence that the final two days of this Test series will overlap with the two-day mega IPL auction. But it’s a happy coincidence for a team that has already lost the series. In this modern world, a fat cheque can be the biggest healer. Even for the less money-minded, the feeling of being wanted is very comforting, especially after a confidence-shattering loss.

Around the time, the South African skipper Faf du Plessis will be lifting the Friendship Cup — that is, in case the Test goes to Day 4 — the paddle-holding owners will be sitting around those round tables, a combined kitty of about Rs 450 crores at their disposal, trying to buy the many Test stars in South Africa.

There will be reports about the crores showered on an India star and the jackpot that a rookie would hit. And these stories of staggering strings of zeroes will dwarf ‘3-0’ or ‘2-0’ or even ‘2-1’ of the Test series result. The silverware might be lost, but there’s gold at the end of this dark tunnel.

This isn’t as much about the players as it is about the fans and the game’s administrators. A lost Test series abroad doesn’t stay in the mind for long. The hand-wringing about the country’s dismal away record stops with the change of the format; for now there are fours and sixes to be clapped for.

Within days of the third Test, the month-long shorter-version series start — India playing 6 ODIs and 3 T20Is. Pitches with a bare-brown look will get watered and flattened with heavy rollers, life slowly getting sucked out of them. Already, the country can’t wait for the run-fest to begin.

Though not a guarantee, but Team India, as a rule, look much better in blue than in whites. It’s true for them even when they are abroad. So, in all likelhood, by the end of February, January would be distant. The bad-dream of Test matches on green tracks would have been forgotten by the sight of those sunny floodlights.

However, for the fans, March will act as the real Neuralyzer, that memory eraser from Men in Black. That’s when Indians will get back their halos and be the unquestionable masters of world cricket again. They travel to, where else, Sri Lanka for an ODI tri-series. By the end of which reputations would have been fully repaired.

It will all be very auspicious for April, when the IPL bugle goes off. There will be Bollywood stars hanging from terraces, the six-count clocks will tick away furiously, and every face in the Indian cricket ecosystem will be smiling brightly.

There will be no discussions on why Virat Kohli gets a Rs 2-crore retainer for being a Grade A cricketer but gets retained for Rs 17 crore by his franchise. Do untested youngsters such as Sarfraz Khan and Rishabh Pant, who are light years away from being those universal Test batsmen who can adjust to any alien condition, deserve the kind of money team owners are showering them with?

And, of course, how much time a team, repeatedly playing on pitches with knee-high bounce, would need to adjust to the pace and carry of those Newlands-like tracks?

To be fair to Virat Kohli and his boys, they have been sweating it out since the time they landed in South Africa. The net sessions have been draining and long. Every batsman keeps returning to the nets, and even while waiting for their turn, they are seen shadow practising their strokes or talking to coaches and team mates. They might have lacked a plan and made a few wrong choices. But the will to win has been there.

The Rahane question
In this series, Kohli and coach Shastri have often been questioned about the playing XI. They have repeatedly answered saying that it’s easy to be wiser with the cushion of hindsight. The Rohit vs Rahane debate has been a thorn in their flesh for most of this month.

Once again, at the toss at Wanderers on Wednesday, the world would want to know the name listed at No.5 on the team sheet that Kohli carries. Rahane looks likely to play. Who will he replace is a question that can kick a lengthy debate that only a book can do justice to. If Rahane does play, his progress will be watched eagerly.

His success will definitely make the team management happy, but it will also make them look bad. There will be questions about their judgement and their guilt. Though, his failure might be even more disappointing for Indian cricket and its fans. It will be a sad realisation that the Rahane-vs-Rohit arguments were frivolous.

They were distractions which took the attention away from the collective limitations of the team abroad. With or without Rahane, the Indian batting don’t have it in them to win abroad, it will be said. That will bring to the fore the bigger issue that have been responsible for India’s dismal show abroad. It might make the BCCI look at the bigger picture. The reason for yet another series loss had less to do with the dubious team selections and more about Indian cricket’s muddled priorities.

The signs at Wanderers weren’t too encouraging for an Indian fan. The menacing South Africa pacers had a spring in their step, they seemed in a zone and focused on the whitewash. At the press conference on Sunday, Vernon Philander, the Zaheer Khan like mastermind of the home’s team young but promising pace attack, was asked if they might go for a five-pronged pace attack.

He certainly liked the sound of it but he let it go saying that the decision-makers in his team would take that call.

Ravi Shastri, on his first sighting of the pitch, shook his head with a helpless expression and said, “It’s a carpet.”

Kohli too said, “Well it’s definitely very different from the last game. I would say similar to Cape Town but a bit more grass on it, which we expected. Yeah, it’s going to be a very lively wicket throughout the course of the Test match. I think it’s going to be a typical Wanderers wicket where there’s good grass, the surface is going to be hard and good bounce also; pretty much like what was expected.”

The talk here is about 6 mm of grass plus the pacers, and Rahane, should he play, will not have it easy. A whitewash looks very difficult to avoid.

But don’t worry, fans, it’s just a week more, after that they will be in their blues. And then very soon it will be the IPL with new teams, new stars and new broadcasters. Everything will be forgotten, come back home.

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