| Don’t mess with me: Sreesanth, who was declared man of the match, on the fourth day at the Wanderers. (AFP)
Johannesburg, Dec. 18: Rahul Dravid stopped short of calling it his finest hour, but there’s little doubt that history and he go together. Almost three years ago, in a stand-in capacity, he’d captained India to its first Test victory in Pakistan.
That was in Multan.
This afternoon, some 11 minutes before lunch on Day IV, Dravid led India to its first Test win in South Africa. There weren’t more than 1,000 spectators, but present at the Wanderers were wife Vijeta and son Samit, now 14 months old. A pity that such a big moment in India’s cricket history was witnessed by so few.
Graeme Smith was at the receiving end, yes, but complimented the visitors for a performance (“they were more hungry”) which didn’t appear likely after the 0-4 rout in the ODIs.
For the high on numbers Indian community, the 123-run victory is bound to cheer those still affected by the failure to beat Australia in the 2003 World Cup final.
While the hosts were stunned, there was nothing muted about celebrations in the Indian dressing room: Champagne, beer, orange juice... enough flowed to actually flood MG Road in Dravid’s Bangalore.
“The boys lost control of themselves. They need to learn to drink,” Dravid quipped, delighted that they’ve learnt to beat South Africa. Interacting with the media, he confessed he’d himself probably “had a bit too much”, but declined to elaborate.
“No clarifications. I’m not clarifying anything,” he said, laughing.
If his decision to bat remains the defining moment of his captaincy, Dravid deserves kudos for starting the three-Test Castle Series with a finger which had been fractured just weeks ago.
“I was fit to bat, that’s it. As for being fully fit, everybody has niggles. What I do know is that I wanted to play in this Test the day I got hit (Cape Town ODI). I remember telling that to the doctor and he felt I should be okay but mustn’t field in slips.”
Emphasising that nothing counts more than the team effort, Dravid said: “It’s not about proving anything to the people, we hadn’t done well in the ODIs and many had rightly written us off. But I knew there was quality in the group and, in critical moments, players stood up to be counted.
“Cricket is a team sport and it’s unfortunate we tend to focus on individuals both in wins and defeats. At times we get more credit and discredit than we deserve. Of course, this is a special moment and, for a couple of days, we’re going to celebrate appropriately.”
No clarifications there!
Dravid, however, did speak about MoM Sreesanth (eight for 99) and praised predecessor Sourav Ganguly. “He's playing really well. He controlled the first innings in Potchefstroom (four-day match against Rest) and here. It’s great to see him bat so well and I hope he continues doing so. Experience helps.”
Sourav remained unbeaten on 51 in innings No.1 and played a stellar role in carrying India to 249. As former Zimbabwe all-rounder Neil Johnson (three MoM awards in the 1999 World Cup) told The Telegraph, he “showed the way”.
Sreesanth, by the way, has been fined 30 per cent of his fee by match referee Roshan Mahanama.
Dravid expects the South Africans to hit back hard and acknowledged there were “areas” to improve. Right at the top of the order definitely is one and the openers’ failures shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet.
As they say, there are lessons to learn from victories as well. For now, though, impassioned cries of “Ganpati Bappa Moriya” and “East or West Dada is the best” will echo across the Indian Ocean. From Behala to Bandra.