November 18, 2005

South Africa 12 - India 11
By Gaurav Sethi

By now you should know all the cricket clichés - how the first game sets the tone for the series… that it’s always a huge psychological win…that South Africa are now unbeaten for 20 games – what a magical number, they’re out of the teens! Or that India was flying high after the Sri Lanka series and have now been put in their rightful place – no. 7? Well, if the clichés don’t get you, the numbers will.

But then, there’s no easy way out. All that talk won’t stop. At least not till the next game. For the time being, it appears South Africa have won more than just a match at Hyderabad. In some way, they have succeeded in making a Sri Lanka out of India (didn’t you sense some glee in Ranjit Fernando’s voice?) Importantly, the Proteas forced India to abandon their original game plan.

Here’s why: Over the last couple of weeks, India had made a definite effort with Murali Kartik – as the second spinner and the fifth bowler for the India-SA series. Evidence: Kartick, in spite of being frequently hit out of the attack, was persevered with, and not dropped from the team. If anything, team India showed rare vision to stick it out with Kartik. After all, the experience would only help him partner Harbajan Singh more effectively against the South Africans. For, spinners like quicks, hunt in pairs. And what better way to prepare for the Proteas than having your two main spinners in some kind of form.

However, on game day, one too many Indian wickets falling meant, in came super sub Gautam Gambhir, and out went the second spinning option, Murali Kartik. Whether Kartik’s exclusion altered the result is not the point. The point is, India was compelled by the Safs into making a change that went against their basic game plan and preparation for the series. Like the India-Sri Lanka series started with Pathan’s promotion, this series has ominously begun with Kartik’s forced exclusion. Almost like South Africa were 12 players while India handicapped, were down to just 11.

Of course, it would have been a lot tougher (and braver) to leave a seamer out, especially after what their pacers had achieved in the morning– more so, since RP Singh, the third seamer, was amongst the more successful Indian bowlers against Sri Lanka.

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