A cacophony of white noise hovers constantly around Indian cricket. So much so that it makes the Proteas’ brilliant performances on tour so far even more impressive. They have exceeded expectations, a fact head coach Russell Domingo came close to admitting before Wednesday’s fourth One Day International in Chennai.
“If anyone had offered me 2:1 up going into the fourth match with a T20 series already in the bag, I’d have jumped at it,” Domingo said. What he would not have jumped at was the hand injury that ruled JP Duminy out of the last two matches of the series. But many an opportunity has been created, and taken, through injury and this may be another example.
AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock have scored contrasting but equally important centuries, but it has been the bowling attack that has excelled in conditions tailor-made to blunt their most precious skills.
Nonetheless, Dale Steyn was keen to shine the spotlight on the run scorers, who have given the bowlers enough runs to defend – albeit only just. Top of his list after the third game in brain-swellingly hot Rajkot was opener De Kock, who defied the elements to post a determined 103.
“Quinny can be one of the game’s great players, he is that talented. Which is probably why people are so hard on him when he makes a mistake, but he is still only 22 years old,” Steyn said, responding to those who said the opener lacked maturity and needed to take more responsibility following a breezy 33 from 36 balls in the second game, which South Africa lost.
“His century in Rajkot was one of the most mature and responsible innings I have seen,” Steyn said. “The heat was unbearable and the ability to maintain concentration was seriously inhibited. But he was a man on a mission and determined not to make another attractive 30.”
In fact, Steyn was in a somewhat cheeky mood in a column published in Indian newspapers when he referred to the “life” given to Faf du Plessis, who was deceived by a slower ball from Mohit Sharma early in his innings of 60, only to be recalled after the third umpire confirmed that the bowler had over-stepped. “Although I instinctively felt sorry for Mohit, I was also reminded of Michael Holding’s famous comment: ‘The line is white and is painted on the ground. It doesn’t move,’” Steyn said.
Steyn confessed that some friends watching the third game on television had “changed channel when India needed 120 with eight wickets in hand and MS Dhoni and Virat Kholi at the crease. They presumed it was game over.
“I can assure you it never feels like that on the field, not with so many runs still to score. A wicket can fall with every delivery, and a single wicket can change the course of the match. We obviously knew we needed wickets, but we never, ever felt like we were out of the game.”
And, indeed, that was the case. Steyn and Rabada bowled superb “dry” spells to build pressure, Imran Tahir claimed a few vital wickets, and Morné Morkel claimed a match-winning 4-39 in his 10 overs to secure a most unlikely 18-run victory.
“We have become a tight bowling unit that appreciates and celebrates each other’s successes. We back each other up, which makes it hard for the batsmen when there is no weak link.”
Pakistan-born Tahir could be forgiven for feeling a little distracted this week, following the ICC’s decision to withdraw the immensely popular umpire Aleem Dar from duty in the final two ODIs. His crime? Being Pakistani.
Members of a far-right minority political party, Shiv Sen, stormed the offices of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Monday because they were meeting with their counterparts from the Pakistan Cricket Board to further discuss renewing cricket ties between the countries. Shiv Sen advocates zero contact with Pakistan following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, which were blamed on Pakistani terrorists.
As a result, Aleem was withdrawn from duty and the television production company broadcasting the tour followed suit by dropping former Pakistan fast bowlers Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar from the commentary team for the final game of the series in Mumbai.
Such kowtowing to naked bullying is distasteful, at best, and shameful at worst but, as ever in India, there is a political twist. Shiv Sen is in an alliance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP party and, as such, will be tolerated, but only in certain areas – notably Maharashtra.
Rumours abounded this week that naturalised South African Tahir would not be welcome in either Chennai on Wednesday or Mumbai on Sunday but the Proteas’ own security officers confirmed their confidence in the existing security arrangements for the teams. What a pity the game’s governing body couldn’t do the same for the match officials it employs.
Much of this will go over the players’ heads and be of little interest to them, but security concerns are never far from cricketers’ minds these days and it remains to the team’s credit that they have stayed as calm and as focused as they have.
Still, as Domingo said, there are another 21 days of cricket to be played and more than six weeks remaining. There is a long way to go.