TELFORD VICE, Mohali
AS he waited for his press conference to begin in Mohali the day before the first test, Hashim Amla’s attention was snagged by a quote printed on a T-shirt worn by one of the reporters placing their recorders on the desk in front of him.
“Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy.”
So said Socrates, the Brazilian footballer who understood and played the game as exactly that, a game – not as a marketing vehicle cast as a fight for supremacy between starkly defined tribes.
Amla smiled thoughtfully at the notion, perhaps wondering how the hand of Socrates could possibly fit into the glove the suits had cut for modern sport, perhaps trying to hush his own competitive spirit, perhaps recognising something he knew to be true.
“That’s deep,” he said.
On Saturday, two days ahead of schedule, SA’s captain was back in the same room waiting for much the same bustle of reporters to do their thing.
“Victory is secondary,” Wednesday’s T-shirt wearer reminded him as he placed his recording device.
Amla laughed out loud and replied, “Well said, bru.”
Perhaps, but the problem for Amla and his men was that they struck out swinging on three pitches.
They were not victorious. They did not play beautiful cricket. There was little joy in being whipped by 108 runs inside three days.
That India loaded the dice by fetching a pitch from the Thar Desert itself will take the edge off SA’s disappointment, but they are in for similar surfaces all the way to the fourth test in Delhi next month.
“Obviously, since it is an important international fixture, we will have to prepare it according to what the BCCI and the Indian team wants,” an unnamed Delhi and Districts Cricket Association official was quoted as telling Saturday’s edition of the Indian Express.
Even so, SA know that poor decisions at the crease cost them more than any other factor.
Amla’s analysis of his own dismissal in the second innings – bowled without offering a stroke – summed it up: “It’s a matter of playing the ball and not playing the ball. If I’d played it I probably would have hit it in the middle of the bat.”
JP Duminy and Morne Morkel should be over the injuries that kept them out of the first test in time to be picked for the second test in Bangalore on Saturday. But on Thursday Dale Steyn will face a fitness test on his groin strain. At least he has two bonus days off.
Asked if three-day tests were good for cricket, Indian captain Virat Kohli went back to the aggressive forward defensive he has used on the issue since arriving in Mohali.
“It would have been the right track if it went on ’till five days, right? So why not in three days?
“When we lose in England no-one asks if the track was right. It’s always that we’ve played badly.
“Hashim said the batsmen didn’t apply themselves and I agree with him. Those who applied themselves got runs.”
Line-ups that featured six of the top 20 ranked batsmen in world cricket delivered nothing more than three half-centuries.
Thirty-four of 40 batsmen succumbed to spin. Only in three of the 2186 tests yet played has slow poison claimed more wickets.
If pomposity prevents India from recognising those alarms, they need Socrates.