What an extraordinary period the last couple of weeks were for Indian cricket. While Team India’s great comeback performance to win a Test match in trying pitch conditions in The Bullring of an arena in Johannesburg was most laudable, there was greater pleasure to be derived from watching the Boys in Blue win the Under-19 World Cup. The innocence of youth stamped on their faces was belied by the maturity of their cricket. The chase was so calm and assured in the final as to present a most sanguine picture of the future of these young and talented cricketers.
The lads may not have had a challenging target to meet after the bowlers had kept Australia down to a manageable total in the final overs. Even so, the chase can usually play tricks on batsmen’s minds. The openers were so fluent in their run making and so little bothered by the bounce of the new ball that the win could be spotted a long way from home. Of course, the steadying hand of the left-handed opener Manjot Kalra was crucial to the nerves being kept until the target could be mocked at.
In the high back lift and the flourish of the downswing, which was such a feature of Prithvi Shaw as well as Kalra’s batting, we saw an elegance that promises greater things to come from them. It was understandable if the wicket-keeper batsman Desai showed a youthful enthusiasm for striking the ball. But many of them were honed by playing the tougher bowling of the first class game in India to which Rahul Dravid sent them rather than see them cart junior bowlers around in youth cricket. The kind of maturity shown may have been owed to how Dravid handled their preparation for the World Cup held in New Zealand. Even as the lads were conquering the world, the seniors had crafted a remarkable recovery in South Africa. Surviving the toughest conditions in Jo’burg, India’s cricket pride was given many more reasons to feel inflated as the pace quartet had the South African opener Dean Elgar cringing in pain, behaving as he was in the crease like a Bharatanatyam dancer who had forgotten his steps. It was painful watching him bat even if he was to be pitied rather than censured for batting like that when the new ball was showing some whimsicality in its bounce.
The desire some of the South Africans showed in wanting to call off the game for the sake of uncertain bounce in the pitch ran against the grain of the very spirit of the Proteas who have been groomed on the pitches that allow a lot of bounce and carry. The amount of moisture they use in the preparation does, however, boomerang on them now and then as it did on this rare occasion. But then this is one Team India with a lethal pace attack like none other previous to it in Indian cricket history.
In fact, it was pride rather than Schadenfreude that we felt in watching this strange spectacle of the metaphorical retreating back foot in a SA batsman. The Indians in history may have been chastised for letting their back foot stray towards the square leg umpire, but this Team India under Kohli showed character that was heart-warming, particularly since they had to bat when the pitch was at its worst on the opening day, allowing copious bounce as well as seam movement.
The tide had turned so much in the third Test that Team India are cruising to a rare ODI series win on south African soil. We have not had it so good in SA since the 2003 World Cup in which the Australians were the only superior force. There may have been a lesson in modesty even in the victories for the captain and manager as the two players they left out from the second Test (Rahane was also not in the first Test) did the most towards making the third Test win possible while Rahane has gone on to play a pivotal role in the first ODI win that gave India the absolute momentum.
The game has always been greater than the individual. It can make the wisest look like absolute fools when it comes to judgment over players and playing XIs.
The least Kohli and Shastri can do is to accept they were wrong in their choice of the XI on the crucial occasion of the second Test when they left out Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rahane. It is nicer to accept that there is no absolute wisdom so far as cricket knowledge goes.