Purplest patch yet looms for SA

Sunday Times


AMONG the places human beings should avoid is the middle of a freeway. That goes double when the freeway is in Mumbai, triple at rush-hour and exponentially more when said human being is on foot.

But, as a chunk of the city’s population of 22-million oozed their way to work and wherever else in a grumpy hurry one morning this week, there she was: a little old lady in a purple sari. Walking in the middle of the freeway. In Mumbai. At rush-hour.

She had crossed several lanes to get there and was clearly bent on crossing several more. Whatever was on the mind she may not have had, stopping was not.

Instead, brandishing nothing more than a glare down the road as steady as the hand she held out, palm up and defiant to her side in the same direction, she stopped the traffic.

That done, she strode through the staggered but unbroken line of gaps between the cars unscathed and unbowed to perform a miracle that made walking on hot coals barefoot – or even on water – look like flipping a beer mat.

It is a scene SA would do well to keep in mind as they contemplate the staggering achievement that dangles within their grasp.

Only twice have teams played series in all three formats on one tour to India. Neither of those sides have won all three series.

With the one-day and Twenty20 trophies at stake on this tour already in SA’s luggage, they will complete the royal flush if they win the test series that starts in Mohali on Thursday.

In any event, SA are in rare company as only the fourth team to come away from India having won the test and ODI series on the same visit.

What are the chances? SA have not gone down in an away test series in nine years and there are just three drawn rubbers amid all that success.

However, India are not the little old ladies that might make them seem. Indeed, they have lost just one of the 17 test series they have played at home in the past 10 years.

Moreover, Ravichandran Ashwin, the spinner who bothered SA’s batsmen the most out of all India’s bowlers in the T20 series but was then removed from the equation in the first ODI, will be back in Mohali.

And the visitors can be sure all four pitches in the series will be among the driest they will see in their careers.

But SA have tended to get their retaliation in first. Since re-admission, in bilateral engagements of at least three matches regardless of the format, they have gone on to claim the rubber 54 times when they have won the first game. When they have lost the opening match, they have also lost the series 21 times.

And, on this tour, they won the first Twenty20 as well as the opening match of the ODI series …

Not that such flights of fancy will be on Hashim Amla’s mind. SA’s captain has averaged more than 50 in eight of the last nine test series in which he has had more than one innings. His career average has remained above 50 for 20 tests stretching back to November 2012.

But, in seven innings in India, Amla has averaged 18.14 and has yet to reach 40 nevermind 50.

That might make him nervous in light of what Dane Vilas said this week about the increasingly fierce competition for places in SA’s XI.

“If you are secure in your position it’s not great for a team. Everyone wants to get into this team now and everyone wants to play against a quality side like India.”

Not that Amla is much like other players. Instead, he will value greatly the pressure to succeed.

Perhaps that’s what made the little old lady cross the freeway.


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