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How tables were turned

Aditya Iyer

Posted: Jan 08, 2011 at 0832 hrs IST

Durban: First, there was his marvelous golf-swing-with-the-bat image in Centurion. Then, a picture captured his body flipping unattractively into a convex in Durban. Finally, two identical poses — both with his hands hoisted in the air — punctuated the end of the reel in Cape Town.

In retrospect, look no further than the three photographs of Jacques Kallis for a clear perspective on the Test series. In these priceless frames lies the story of India’s historic tour. Even as Kallis teeing-off will remain the moment of the first Test, India’s miseries began on their fifth tour to South Africa long before South Africa’s spine got to the celebrations of his much-awaited double hundred in Test cricket.

Much was expected from the way this tour began, especially due to the South African influence in the team-management with Gary Kirsten as head-coach and Eric Simmons as the bowling equivalent. But coaches don’t go out for tosses, MS Dhoni does.

While heavy overnight thunderstorms ensured that a flip of the coin would almost decide the fate of the opening Test at Supersport Park, Dhoni proved more loopholes in the Probability Theory by losing his 13th toss in fourteen attempts in 2010. Zaheer Khan missed the Test due to his wretched groin strain, and India were bowled out for 136 in the first innings — as Morne Morkel (5/20) showed why the Indians weren’t suited to fast-paced pitches. South Africa piled on the pain with a mammoth 620/4 dec in reply, shortly after Kallis celebrated his first 200 in 143 Tests.

Hashim Amla’s year had a sixth Test ton, while AB de Villiers broke batting records for fun — this time the fastest century by a South African. Although Sachin Tendulkar gave India much to smile about with his 50th ton during the second essay, India lost the Test by an innings and 25 runs. But there were a few positives in the Indian camp despite the loss, such as the 459 runs scored in the second innings — the highest by a team that lost by an innings — and the news that Zaheer would be available for the second Test.

Durban delight

The scene shifted to Durban, where South Africa had lost two games back to back — against Australia and England — on Boxing Day Tests, and Dhoni pulled his team together to ensure that he doesn’t end 2010 with his first Test series loss. The game started with yet another Indian batting collapse, led by Steyn’s six-for-pittance. But India’s 205 was still a sizeable total as compared to SA’s 131.

Harbhajan Singh found a new lease of confidence with 4/10, while Zaheer marshaled the bowlers with just his presence. The three wickets also helped. With only the tail to play with, VVS Laxman was the crisis-man for the fourth time in the year, and his spiritual 96 posted a target of 303.

As the largest population of Indians outside the sub-continent lent support at Kingsmead, Sreesanth’s snorter death-rattled Kallis, before SA fell 87 runs short to give India their second-ever victory on this side of the Indian Ocean.

The series-decider was to be played in Newlands, and in Kallis’s backyard. Before the game had started, Kallis had 1,603 runs at Newlands. After the game, he raised that by 270 more runs — spread over two centuries.

On the brink

While the first one (161) gave SA a fantastic first-innings score of 362, the second saved them from the brink of losing their first series to India on home soil. For, between his two innings, Tendulkar scored his second ton of the series, a magical 146 that gave India the narrowest of lead — two runs.

South Africa found themselves in all kinds of trouble at 64/4 and then 130/6, but Kallis — despite a torturous rib injury — batted seven hours to score his eighth century in Newlands. 340 runs was never going to be a possibility, as the visitors settled for a historic draw.

Overall, it was a series where both teams matched each other player-for-player. Although South Africans lead both the batting and the bowling charts — Kallis’s 498 at 166 with the bat and Steyn’s 21 scalps at 17.47 with the leather — statistics can never reveal the true story. If it did, then Laxman’s total of 196 runs — 134 of those were scored to record the Durban win — at a 39.20 wouldn’t be considered much by the gurus.

Rather than numbers, just take a look at the pictures. In a series where both skipper’s competed for the ‘safest captain’ tag, the final snap clicked at the Newlands is all-revealing — Dhoni and Smith wearing smug smiles while sharing the silver clarinet.

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