Thursday, 16 December 2010

Why the Ashes is for also-rans compared to South Africa steamrolling India

Forget the WACA, Centurion was the centre of the cricket-speaking world yesterday with South Africa destroying India’s world-class batting line-up in a mere 38 overs. The best Test playing nation in the world were reduced to 136-9 before bad light stopped play amid the backdrop of broken reputations and dropping jaws.

Sure, England’s performance on day one of the third Ashes Test in Perth was pretty good. Getting Australia out for 268 and ending the day on 29-0 puts Andrew Strauss’s men in with a very good chance of retaining the world’s tiniest trophy, given they’re already 1-0 up in the series.

But until you actually seen Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel tear in to the world’s best – Gautam Ghambir (5), Virender Sehwag (a duck), Sachin Tendulkar (36), Rahul Dravid (14) and VVS Laxman (7) – you ain’t seen nothing. They’re all in the top 25 in the latest Test rankings. They simply couldn’t live with the Proteas yesterday. The WACA was Perthetic in comparison.

England spinner Graeme Swann and seamer James Anderson, currently second and third in the ICC World Rankings, just can’t hold a candle to World No1 Steyn, who took 3-34 in ten overs yesterday, and Morkel, the world No6, who ended with figures of 12.1-5-20-4. Barely a bad ball bowled. Suresh Raina (1) and the Indian tail look thoroughly intimidated. Ricky Ponting’s current Australians would have struggled to get into three figures.

The Indians, after comfortable series wins over Australia and New Zealand on home soil, simply didn’t have an answer. The legend that is Tendulkar threatened briefly to halt the flow and Harbhajan Singh (27) looked ominous for a couple of overs. Captain MS Dhoni was still there at the close on 33 not out... but he knows the struggle is pointless. This Test is gone. Let the rain dance behind. It’s India’s only hope.

England’s 1-1 series draw here last year is now beginning to look like a very, very good result indeed. They survived at Centurion and Newlands with nine wickets down to grab the tightest of draws with only Graeme Onions to spare.

Make no mistake, not many sides will escape South Africa with anything to show for it. The press box at Centurion is busier than I’ve ever seen it, packed with journalists from the sub-continent. Most of them are in shock. The long-awaited clash between the best two Test sides in the world wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It was like Barcelona against Real Madrid a fortnight ago. The top two sides in La Liga meet... and Barca win 5-0. It felt like that here on day one of this three-match series between the world’s top Test sides. Incredible. All it lacked was a Barmy Army. My attempts, as a lone Englishman in a three lions shirt, to sing Jerusalem were sadly lost in the general hub-bub.

Okay, the toss helped. Dhoni doesn’t have much luck with the coin, and when Graeme Smith guessed right and inserted the Indians, it was always going to be tough. Behind the far sight-screen, the usually placid Hennops Rivers is flowing like the Amazon. It’s threatening to sweep away the road bridge and has wiped out six holes at the local golf club.

The overnight deluge delayed play this morning for four-and-a-half hours. But in the short time remaining on day one, India succeeded only in looking very dodgy indeed. Watch the Ashes all you like, admire England’s sensational fielding, enjoy Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn at full flow.

But until you’ve faced Steyn and Morkel on a pitch with a bit of bounce, never imagine the current Ashes series is anything more than a competition for also-rans.

Singh said: "We were quite prepared to play on a good track, but unfortunately with the rain and stuff it was quite a damp wicket. The toss was very crucial to this match. We lost the toss. They bowled well in the given conditions, and they got the rewards. If we had won the toss, I think we would have done the same thing. We would have bowled first, then who knows what would have happened."

“ If we get the sun tomorrow, obviously it will play a lot better than it did today. That's what I think. I could be wrong.

“We are playing on a wet wicket where the ball is seaming or nipping. A warm-up game would have been on a perfect cricketing wicket. You can't complain about wickets, but we need to make sure we come back into the game."

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