A Tale of Two Cities

Date: January 3, 2012 / Posted by control

The weather was about the only similarity between the opening day’s play in the SCG and Newlands Tests. The way the two matches unfolded again highlighted the wonderful vagaries that enchant those who love the game’s most traditional format.

It was a day that produced a dichotomy in performance – in Sydney the ball was king, in Cape Town the ball was bashed from pillar to post.

Indian skipper M S Dhoni won the toss and decided to bat against Australia. It would be an innings highlighted by its brevity and a lack of technical nous.

Once again the lions at home, lambs away syndrome that has plagued Indian sides down through the decades was to the fore.

On a pitch that threw up very few gremlins, the Indian batsmen unraveled through a mix of poor footwork, closed bat faces and an inability to counter the bouncing ball.

To their credit, the Australian pace trio did get the ball to bend in the air.

India’s capitulation started with the haplessly out of form Gautum Ghambir’s meek edge to first slip from the third ball of the match, delivered by James Pattinson.

As if to try and outdo his mode of dismissal, Virender Sehwag, V V S Laxman and Virat Kohli all gifted their wickets with windy wafts outside off-stump.

Sachin Tendulkar’s Test century drought extended to 365 days when he once again dragged a ball on to his stumps, this times off Pattinson.

Shortly after tea, Australia landed the coup de grâce with a mere 59.3 overs required to cut down the tourists for a meagre 191, which given the state of the pitch, was about half-way to par had the batsmen been able to apply themselves as Test players should.

Indian batsmen have become so used to playing on flat, featherbed, batting friendly pitches. As was demonstrated in England in the middle of last year, any time the ball bounces their technique is exposed.

With the exception of Tendulkar, and for a time, Rahul Dravid in Melbourne, India’s top-order has looked about as comfortable as a brunette at the Miss Sweden contest.

For a team that was recently ranked number one in the world, this tour has so far been a forgettable one.

But all is not lost, just yet. Australia after plummeting to 3/37 reached stumps at 3/116, 75 in arrears, with the past and present skippers – Ricky Ponting (44) and Michael Clarke (47) – at the crease.

To be back in the match India need at least two wickets in the first hour of the second day.

Across in glorious Cape Town, Sri Lanka managed to capture three wickets but it took them all day to achieve it.

In what can only be described as a brain fade, Tillekeratne Dilshan decided to send the Proteas in to bat after winning the toss. It proved to be about as successful as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia.

As Graeme Smith departed the middle in his blazer his smile looked like something straight out of a toothpaste advertisement.

It wasn’t long before the tourists were hemorrhaging runs like a haemophiliac.

Smith chopped an innocuous delivery from Dhammika Prasad onto his stumps while Hashim Amla was trapped in front of his by Prasad. Both men fell for 16 as the home side slid to 2/57.

But after that Jacques Kallis, in his 150th Test and the recalled Alviro Petersen put on a batting clinic against an attack that plumbed the depths like a group of speleologists.

The bowlers went about their task as if the team was two-nil down in the series rather than playing in a decider which, should they be successful, would bestow a slice of history on this Sri Lankan line-up.

The score at one point was rattling along at five an over and you had to wonder whether the Cape Town dry cleaners were still celebrating the festive period and hadn’t delivered the teams’ coloured uniforms to the ground.

Kallis and Petersen took full toll on an assortment of innocuous bouncers and ill-directed half volleys. At times it was like watching a train crash in slow motion. Both posted centuries with Petersen falling on 109.

Kallis, however, had bigger fish to fry in his milestone match, going to stumps on 159 not out – an innings of majesty and control. Newlands has proved to be Kallis’ Elysian field. He surpassed 2000 Test runs at the ground whilst compiling his ninth century in the shadows of the stately oaks.

With A B de Villiers in tow on 45, Kallis helped guide South Africa to 3/347 off a full 90 overs – a run rate of 3.9 per over.

In one day, that started with an ill-fated decision at the toss and a scoreboard that multiplied like the biblical loaves and fishes, Sri Lanka pretty much forfeited any chance of winning the series and will have to play from behind to salvage a fighting draw.

Two matches, thousands of kilometres apart, kept the fans spellbound, but for vastly differing reasons, as Test cricket greeted another year, its 135th.

The grand old dame of the sport – you just have to love her!