TELFORD VICE, Nagpur
THE happy smell of beer filled a room at the Wanderers around lunchtime on December 18 2006. With it, in a tumble of smiles and whites soaked with something other than sweat, came Rahul Dravid.
Well might Dravid have smiled as he sat down at that press conference. His Indian team had risen to the occasion and won a test in SA for the first time in 10 attempts.
Sreesanth had taken eight wickets in the match and Zaheer Khan five on a surface that was challenging to bat on without straining the extremes of what could be called a cricket pitch.
India had played a better game than SA and deserved to win. Not a mind in that room thought otherwise.
On Friday, just more than an hour after tea, the drumbeat clatter of spikes on a tiled floor accompanied Virat Kohli into a room at Jamtha in Nagpur.
Was there a mind in the room that did not have doubts about the manner in which India had clinched their test series against SA?
India’s captain was met with phrases like the “ugliness of batting” seen in a series that, after three matches, has yet to produce a century, and the “picture of distortion” created. He was asked whether he was “willing to accept collateral damage” in his ruthlessnesses to win.
And all that in one question from an Indian reporter.
First, Kohli balked at “ugliness”, saying, “That’s a very harsh word to use.”
Then he lunged forward defensively: “I don’t mind compromising a bit on averages as long as we’re winning test matches. Sometimes small contributions are bigger than big hundreds we get in test matches.”
Kohli squirmed at the suggestion that the overtly turning pitches that have limited the two decided tests to six out of a possible 10 days were the product of a “policy”.
“It is not a policy, it’s the conditions that you get in India. Otherwise you’re just playing test matches that will get you 500 runs an innings.
“You don’t create bowlers like that. You don’t win test matches like that. I think the key is to win test matches.”
What, someone wondered out loud, would people say?
“It doesn’t really matter. The fact is we’ve won the series. That is not going to change however many articles are written about the pitch, and however many articles are written about their batting and an undue advantage for our spinners.
“It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, results matter. That’s why we play this game – to win games.
“That’s exactly what has happened. We’ve won the series. We’ve sealed it here, and we’re very happy about that.”
By then, Hashim Amla had been and gone. But his words hung in the air like the smell of a Highveld thunderstorm.
Amla scored 307 runs in five innings in India in 2008. Two years later he reeled off two centuries and a double century in his three innings, two of them not out, for an average of 490.00. This time, he has scraped together 90 runs in five trips to the crease.
“When I came to India in 2008 and even in 2010, if I had to face Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh on wickets like this I don’t think I would have got any runs either. I put it down more to the wickets – facing Anil here would have been a nightmare.”
The Jamtha pitch “got more difficult to bat on; from day one to day three it got progressively worse”.
What’s the lesson?
“You want to lose honourably and you want to win honourably as well.”
Ah, yes – 2006 and all that.