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Indians still top dogs in Test cricket

The Indian cricketers led cleverly by wicket keeper batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni did magnificently to retain their top spot in Test Cricket with an innings and 57 win against South Africa in the Second Test that finished at Eden Gardens in Calcutta on Thursday.

In the First of Two Test series, South Africa slapped an innings defeat on the Indians and when the teams took the field for this Test, the stage was set for a Test that was going to be a make or break one for India.

It was vital for the Indians to win this one and jump top of the rankings. As for Greame Smith’s South Africans they had to draw or win this game to grab the top slot. But as fate had decreed, the cricket gods looked benignly on the Indians and in giving them an innings victory, also made them sit proudly at the top of the rankings which is the bottom line of any Test cricket playing nation.

Often asked question

Before going on to further comment on this series we would like to fire the often asked question on those who matter - what is the big deal in playing just Two Test matches? This question becomes all the more important because this series was going to decide as to was going to be top of the Test rankings.

To decide on the Test ranking after just Two Test series and each team winning one is not a fair indication of the team’s prowess and their worth in winning the championship crown.

As it proved, this Two Test series becomes a joke when each team wins a match. It is not too later for the cricketing authorities to rethink Two Tests and play a minimum of Three Tests.

Having said that, we move on to the Final Test which finally turned out to be a nail biter. With just thirteen minutes to for the curtain to come down on the Test, which if it had ended in a draw would have had the South Africans jubilating.

Plumb in front

But a top spinner from ‘Turbanator’ Harbhajan Singh proved cruel for the visitors catching last man Morne Morkel plumb in front thus breaking the hearts of the team and their supporters who would have been glued to their radios and TV sets at home. It cannot be helped because that is how sport goes.

Umpire Steve Davis held his nerve to raise the dreaded finger which nailed the South African coffin and made the Indians do the war dance and celebrate a victory that at one stage looked elusive with Hashim Amla and Mokel defending doggedly. TV replays showed that Davis made the right decision.

With this victory which perched them on the top of the Test rankings the Indians also pocketed a money bag of $175,000 that is given to the team that tops the ICC rankings at the annual cut-off date of April 1.

What caused the South Africans to capitulate in this deciding Test was their shameless collapse after being well set on 218 for two wickets with Hasim Amla and A. Pietersen hitting centuries.

Fell to pieces

But from there onwards the batting fell to pieces (296 all out) and with that they suddenly found themselves in the deep end with the Indians rattling up a massive 643 for seven with Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Singh Dhoni and V. Laxman smashing centuries, the South African had to sink or swim in a swamp of their on making when they took second knock.

The South Africans began their second dig confidently and with the man of the match and series Hashim Amla again playing a dream innings, supported determinedly by their frontline batsmen, it looked as though the South Africans would swim ashore. But they choked with 13 minutes to go and with it shattered their dream of ascending the Test ranking throne. Anyway the Indians and the South Africans played the game in the true spirit and above all making it an exciting one which saw the cricket mad Indian supporters flocking to Eden Gardens to savour the excitement.

It is cricket played in excitement such as this that could lead to Test cricket revival and bring the spectators flocking back instead of flocking to cricket like the 50-over and Twenty20 that is meaningless other than for bringing in the filthy lucre with winning by or hook or by crook being the bottom line.

Soccerites hit back strongly

The Sri Lankan footballers who disappointed against Myanmar and Tajikistan, showed their true capabilities by bashing the SAF Games champions Bangladesh 3-0 at the AFC Challenge Cup at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Saturday.

I watched the three games that the Lankans featured from the stands. It was a learning experience because there is more inside information available in the stands and much one could learn from former footballers who gather there. Where the Lankans went wrong in the first game was that they lost Imtiaz Raheem within the first twenty minutes of the game against Myanmar. An insensible act by Raheem saw him get the red card and from that moment everything went wrong for them.

Game plans and how they were going to front up to their opponents and what tactics to showcase went up in smoke, because the homesters were reduced to 10 men. When that happens there is little the team can do but become apprehensive and all they can do is fall back in defence. From that point attack is out of the question. That they lost 4-nil was not surprise

Second game

Losing a player of Raheem’s caliber was too much to bear and his loss was noticed in the second game against Tajikistan where they lost three-nil. But the final victory against Bangladesh saved the blushes for the players, the coaches and the officials. Now they must take it from here.

Coming from the school that was renowned for football where the only Brazilian trained coach Albert Fernando worked magic with his young footballers and ruled the school soccer scene in the 1950s and ‘60s, I know the trouble and the pressure that coaches and officials work to get the players to hit the net.

I was very close to Fernando in later years and I know. I have followed the game for the last 40 years. G.A.K. Abeyesekera the senior statesman in football today will vouch for this. There is nothing that Abeysekera does not know in the history of the game that is worth knowing. During his time he was impregnable between the posts. The final victory by the Lankans again proved that adage that a game is not won or lost till the final ball is bowled or players, coaches and officials should not be written off till a tournament is over.

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