TELFORD VICE, Nagpur
THE winners of the third test between India and SA won’t be the team who play the better cricket. They will be the side who survive in fewer pieces, who sacrifice ego for the cause more readily.
They will be the team who play less poorly.
That much was clear early on the first day in Nagpur on Wednesday, what with dust billowing regularly from a pitch that played as if it had been almost as rarely touched by the roller as by rain that last fell in these parts too long ago for anyone to remember.
Might not the groundsman have taken a hosepipe to the surface in lieu of nature’s help? Don’t be silly.
And winners there will be in this match. There are no draws in gunfights at the OK Corral, especially with SA resuming on 11/2 on Thursday.
Besides, while SA will be heartened by their bowling performance, India’s total of 215 is the highest yet made in the series.
By the ninth over on Wednesday, Hashim Amla had dispensed with the only two frontline seamers at his disposal, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada.
Of the 78.2 overs it took SA to snuff out India, 55.1 came from the spinners – half of them from Simon Harmer, who rode the outrageous conditions like a gung-ho surfer on Big Wednesday to take 4/78.
Had he enjoyed the pitch?
“I’m a spinner – of course,” Harmer replied. “You saw a few balls spit, and as a spinner that’s what you’re looking for.”
But, unlike the sometimes mindless defence heard in these parts of pitches that put winning and losing above all else, he could see the bigger picture.
“I don’t think the wickets are prepared to last five full days. I think the reason behind the preparation of the wickets is to get a result.
“When the Indian team comes to SA, we’re going to prepare wickets that suit our bowlers.
“And so, with them playing one seamer (Ishant Sharma), it’s clear what sort of wickets they’re preparing.”
Had he ever, at any level of cricket, played on anything like the Nagpur nasty?
“Mohali was much of the same. But there are still three innings left and it’s going to be the same for our batsmen and for both teams throughout the test match.
“It is challenging, but that’s what playing in the sub-continent is all about.”
Murali Vijay, Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja were the only Indians to reach 30, and only them and Virat Kohli stayed alive for as many as 50 balls. None looked like they were having fun out there.
India scored 48 without loss in the first hour. But they were reeled back to 37/2 in the second hour and 36/3 in the third.
SA backed up their bowlers impressively in the field, never more so than when JP Duminy put in a full length backward dive at midwicket to remove Saha.
Dane Vilas came through a brutal day with plenty of reasons to be satisfied. But, considering his form on both sides of the sticks, the tough chance offered by Saha off Rabada that he put down and the even more difficult stumping of Ravichandran Ashwin off Harmer that he missed will weigh heavily.
Neither mistake cost much in terms of runs, but Vilas, proud professional that he is, won’t see things that way.
And that’s a good thing.