Once again, a fast bowler has delivered a lethal dose of reality to Indian cricket. We are good, but not that good. We are like a fancy tower inaugurated amid fanfare but with parts still incomplete and under tarp. The poetic fury of Dale Steyn, the unorthodoxy of Paul Harris and the broad blade of Hashim Amla have shown that India have much work to do if they are to become a dominant No 1 like the West Indies of the 1980s or Australia of the late 90s.
The disappointment over the enormous loss in Nagpur, India’s third innings defeat at home against South Africa in ten years, is understandable. But we should not be surprised. As long as Indian cricket refuses to deal with the root cause of the team’s weakness, which is a traditional discomfort against fast bowling, there will be many Nagpurs. While Harris left a stamp on the match with his street smartness, it was the fast bowlers who took 16 of the 20 Indian wickets. We simply have to produce livelier pitches. It is true that opposition bowlers like Steyn would be even more difficult to play on faster tracks. Another way to look at it is that Indian players would gradually get more used to facing fast bowling.
Sporting tracks would also improve the prospects of the Indian bowlers. They did not get much assistance from the pitch in Nagpur, which enabled Amla and Jacques Kallis to mount a huge total and hand South Africa the first breakthrough.
India’s defeat also showed that as admirable as it is to prepare youngsters for the future, senior cricketers remain vital. In the second innings, Sachin Tendulkar was the lone Indian batsman to resist South Africa’s march towards victory. The only non-senior to show a fight was Virender Sehwag. Rahul Dravid was not around (Graeme Smith should buy Shahadat Hossain a drink), and thus, conspicuous. Indian cricket fans are individualistic and opinionated, but on Tuesday a billion thoughts would have aligned in missing the reassuring presence of one of India’s most reliable batsmen of all time.
When the times are good and the swashbucklers are rolling in the runs, the spotlight coldly leaves out Dravid. He is not glamorous, you see. Though Dravid is now too experienced and mature to mind this, it remains an insulting attitude towards an icon. There is no cricketing storm he has not weathered. He has been instrumental in nearly all of India’s milestone wins and great escapes. One will never know what he would have done in Nagpur, but it is certain India would have done better than they did had he been present.
It is obvious that if India wish to become, to borrow a boxing term, the ‘undisputed’ champions of the world, they need the services of Dravid for at least a few more seasons.