As South Africa prepare for their last engagement in India, the memories of their two back-to-back debacles against the hosts could be haunting them. On the other hand with the 2-0 series victory, the Indians have a reason to be on the seventh heaven before the start of fourth test at Delhi on Thursday. Except the washed-out Bangalore test, the trend in the other two test matches was similar. Batting failed on both sides and fingers were pointed at the torrid pitch conditions. If India could register victories under three days at Mohali and Nagpur, it was because some Indian batsmen managed to fare slightly better than their South African counterparts. The pitch behaved badly at Mohali and conditions at Nagpur became worse. Now ICC has asked the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the BCCI, to respond to a show-cause notice within two weeks, after a poor rating for the Nagpur pitch. The ICC has derived its conclusion, based on the report of match referee Jeff Crowe. Although India team director Ravi Shastri has found nothing wrong with the pitch, his statement looks apparently loaded in India’s favor.
After the series loss in shorter formats of cricket, India’s cricket managers ensured that the four-match test series was played on turning tracks. In the first test at Mohali, India got what they wanted. Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli opted for three spinners, who did their jobs in restricting the visitors first at Mohali and then at Nagpur. At Mohali, Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra together accounted for 19 wickets and took all 20 at Nagpur. In the two test matches, Ashwin bagged 20 wickets, Jadeja had 12 and Mishra took 7. Talking about the batting, both teams fared poorly. India scored 200 and 201 in their two innings at Mohali and still won the test by 108 runs. At Nagpur, the pitch became a minefield for batsmen on either side with India getting all out for 215 in the first innings and for 173 in the second. India’s victory came as result of South Africa being bundled out for 79 in the first innings. This was the Proteas’ lowest score against India ever and 10th lowest overall. South Africa’s earlier lowest against India was 86 in the 2006 Johannesburg test, where S Sreesanth had run riot by taking 5-wickets. South Africa, however, are on record to have registered their worst ever test innings’ total of 30 all out against England twice earlier. The first time was 119 years ago in 1896 at Port Elizabeth and again 28 years later at Birmingham in 1924. In the Nagpur test, South Africa restricted India to 173 in the second innings but failed to reach the victory target of 310 runs as Ashwin’s tweakers and unpredictable ball movement allowed the Chennai bowler to wreak havoc with a 7-wicket haul.
With both Mohali and Nagpur tests concluding inside three days, conditions at Delhi’s Firozshah Kotla Ground are not likely to be any different. While much has been talked about India’s spin trio of Ashwin, Jadeja and Amit Mishra, South Africa also reaped success through Imran Tahir, Simon Harper and part-time orthodox spinner Dean Elgar. If the same scenario is replayed at Delhi, the side with better batting on the appointed day will have an edge. As for India, though the series is already won, Kohli’s men would try their best to make it a 3-0 whitewash. For South Africans, however, it will be the only chance for some partial redemption. But the aftermath of the test series may still trouble India’s cricket managers, who have spent every moment of their waking time since the Nagpur test in trying to conjure up an appropriate answer for the pitch conditions, where every delivery held its own suspense. Under normal circumstances, the victory celebrations after beating the best test playing side in the world should have been glorious but the curious finish and condemnation of the horribly turning track took some credit away from India’s team. The least India could do at this juncture is to avoid the Nagpur-like conditions for the Kotla test. The pitch artist Daljit Singh, who produced the Mohali track, has also been entrusted to oversee Delhi and cricket lovers would be only too happy to see Mr Singh prepare the strip for a fair game in the last test match.