| Graeme Smith embraces Herschelle Gibbs after the win on Saturday. (Reuters)
Cape Town: Even the loss of over three hours and a malfunctioning super sopper couldn’t stop South Africa from winning the third Castle Test and the three-match series.
For Team India, then, the tour ended (on Saturday) in exactly the manner it had begun — with a defeat. If South Africa A stunned the visitors in Benoni on November 16, Graeme Smith’s motivated and passionate bunch took the honours at Newlands.
The South Africans won by five wickets, capitalising on the very defensive fields in the morning and the somewhat inexplicable use of bowlers once play resumed after the massive rain-induced stoppage.
Munaf Patel bowled one over in the second innings and Sachin Tendulkar was introduced when the South Africans required a mere 13 runs.
Intriguingly, coach Greg Chappell revealed that Harbhajan Singh for Munaf had “never” been an option and advised the Media to “check” with captain Rahul Dravid why specialist Munaf had almost nothing to do.
[“Knowing the way Anil Kumble bowls, on this wicket I would even have picked Harbhajan ahead of him,” is what South Africa’s former chief selector, Omar Henry, told The Telegraph.]
Smith, who led from the front with excellent knocks of 94 and 55, got the MoM award while predecessor Shaun Pollock became the envied Man of the Series. Sreesanth and Ashwell Prince were the other contenders.
Ironically, the Indians lost on a wicket which had the characteristics of surfaces at home. No wonder an ecstatic Smith said: “It’s a massive moment for me and the team... That we could win on such a wicket is what makes it more meaningful.”
More sweeter, too, and the selectors have rewarded Smith’s men by retaining everybody for the three-Test series against Pakistan.
“If we look to the tour as a whole, then there are more questions than answers... We’re a bit flat after failing to win the series... We had a good start (at the Wanderers), but let it slip,” Chappell remarked in his interaction with the Media.
Only twice before — in 1984-85 at home versus England and in 2001-02 in the West Indies — did we take the lead and still lose a Test series. The Indians expected South Africa to “hit back hard,” but didn’t have a strategy to counter. Poor batting, overall, made it worse.
Dravid, by the way, didn’t turn up to face the Media as he had to “quickly change” for the flight to Johannesburg. The team checked out of the Southern Sun Cullinan in the morning itself and, so, the bus left straight for the airport.
A quick getaway, really.
After spending the night in Johannesburg, Dravid and Co. take a direct flight to Mumbai on Sunday afternoon. After Wanderers, it seemed Dravid could return home as the first captain to either win or at least draw a Test series in South Africa.
Now, he has joined the ranks of Mohammed Azharuddin, Sachin and Sourav Ganguly.
On the last day, the Indians ‘chirped’ like never before (and would’ve put the birds in Cape Town to shame), but the South Africans were much too professional. Just about the only time a window of opportunity opened was when Smith got out (127 for three), but stayers Jacques Kallis and Prince took their team to safety.
Zaheer Khan was all fired up and Dinesh Karthik, who was superb in a stand-in capacity, took a great catch, but the fizz was not there. Defending a shade over 200 had to be tough in any condition, it got tougher when Smith and Pollock (promoted ahead of specialists) began Day V in pretty rousing fashion.
In any case, 55 of the runs had been knocked off (for the loss of two wickets) by stumps on Day IV.
Incidentally, unless Chappell stays after the World Cup, the Test here is going to be remembered as his last. “Yes, we lost momentum on the fourth afternoon (when Sachin and Dravid struggled) and didn’t score as many as we should have in the first innings... A combination of the two played a major part in the defeat,” he acknowledged.
He added: “The wicket didn’t deteriorate to the extent most, including us, expected... There was something more for the bowlers at the Pavilion End, but by no means was it a minefield...
“We’re concerned about (Virender) Sehwag’s form, but not about him alone... Over the next week or so, decisions have to be taken... There are a few guys who’re under pressure... Sourav did a good job... Did what he was picked to do... Yesterday, given the circumstances he had to begin his innings, he was exceptional...”
According to Chappell, there were “positives” in the form of Zaheer and Sreesanth’s bowling. The negatives, though, were far too many.