Cricket can be so infuriating sometimes. Just when you think you know it all, and how a game is going to pan out – thats when it bites you in the ass. Yesterday, I switched off from the India – South Africa game, when SA were 106/3; fully confident that South Africa would easily win the game considering the way Smith was playing. Of course, I conveniently forgot another India – South Africa clash which took place in 2002, a semifinal match in the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo. South Africa were cruising to victory chasing 262, with Gibbs and Kallis leading the way, when I switched off the telly at 180/1. The next morning, I woke up to the news that India had won the game by 10 runs due to a combination of uncharacteristic Indian fielding and characteristic South African choking. That day, I made a vow to myself, that I would never consider any result as a foregone conclusion, based on halfway scorelines. Instead, I fell into old habits, and voila, 24 hours later when I decided to check the latest cricket news – ‘Munaf stars in stunning one-run win’.
After frantically searching for highlights, I managed to watch how the game was won (and lost by South Africa). There will be a lot of critics throwing out the ‘C’ word, but how else can you describe this, other than saying that the Saffers choked big time. The pitch was slow alright, but with Smith playing the way he was, and the presence of legitimate batsmen like Duminy and Miller for support, there is no way that they should have lost the game. The Indian bowling was disciplined but not threatening, and they were more generous with the bad deliveries unlike the South African bowling. With the World Cup around the corner, they will face more pitches like these in the subcontinent, and it is time they think about a deeper batting line up. Botha and Parnell can get you runs now and then, but you cannot expect them to score all the time, and against tougher bowling attacks.
On the other hand, when India needed a player to step up to the moment, Munaf Patel came forward. I don’t think he was unplayable, but he did his part to the best of his abilities. First up, he took out the big wicket of Amla and that was invaluable considering the form he is in. Then, he returned to trigger the slide, with the wicket of the skipper; and hammered the final nail in the coffin with the wickets of Morkel and Parnell. The thing about Munaf is, that like the South African Tsotsobe, he is not express pace like Steyn and does not generate bounce like Morkel; but when the mood strikes him, he can bowl with unerring discipline and accuracy, which is a potent mix in ODIs. With the World Cup team selection next week, Munaf grabbed his chance to impress the selectors, and in the process brought about a morale boosting win for the Indians.
Since I had switched off from the cricket for 24 hours, I missed another classic game between cricket’s oldest traditional rivals. In the first of a marathon ODI series, England had set Australia a target of 295, which was duly chased down with Shane Watson leading the way. I haven’t yet seen any highlights of the game, but from what I read, he played one of the finest one-day knocks ever seen, and even without seeing any of it, I can agree with that.
Throughout a horrendous summer for the Aussies, Watson has scored umpteen fifties, without ever carrying on to make a big one; and it has hurt the team, as he is one of the few batsmen in good nick. On a Melbourne Sunday, that changed, as he led the way with a fine unbeaten 161. As I cannot judge his innings without having seen it, I can appreciate the context in which he has scored it. Having lost the Ashes at home and tied the T20s, Australia would have been desperate for some good news, anything to divert their minds from the devastating floods. Watson himself had so much to worry about, with the floods having caused havoc in his hometown of Ipswich. Additionally, he had the burden of leading the batting forward in the absence of support from his fellow top order bats. A loss in the first match of the series, could have plunged the team into serious doubt over their own abilities as a winning side and adversely affected their mindset for the impending World Cup; but as they say, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ and Watson was the man for Australia. I was never really a fan of Watto, but he has won me over. In the face of doubts, criticisms, ridicules and severe strife, he played a defining knock to cheer his country and give his team hope. For that, I can get behind him, and even make an honest effort to like him. Here’s to an actual contest between England and Australia!