Monday, 23 December 2013

India vs South Africa: One extra over, too much extra concern for skipper M S Dhoni

Faf Du Plessis almost missed this match if not for South African skipper Graeme Smith, owing to a combination of South Africa's unique 'transformation' programme - which seeks equal rights for Blacks in the team; and largely owing to his own poor form. Yet the newly-married cricketer, with his better-half cheering from the stands, proved to be the main protagonist in a dial-a-twist Test match.

The first Test though, ironically, ended in a farce with the fans booing their own players. Dale Steyn hit a six off the final ball and ignored other scoring possibilities with non-striker Vernon Philander reiterating South African team's policy. On a day when both teams had the options of winning and losing, they took a third option that a Test match offers. Tactics will be re-designed, there will be different perceptions towards moral victory and defeat but it draws forward to a tantalizingly interesting series finale next week in Durban.

The Johannesburg Test though, left a lot of questions unanswered. Why did the hosts abandon the chase, needing 16 from 3 overs with 3 wickets to spare, including injured Morne Morkel ready to bat if needed? But the bigger question will be for MS Dhoni? Why did he keep Mohammaed Shami away from attack for a long, long time ? Why weren't the negative tactics put in place early enough to put away the fear of losing this Test? And most importantly, how did our Captain Charismatic allow India to bowl that one extra over?

Time and over-rate management is an integral part of captaincy, and it was baffling to see India bowling 76 overs before the final session, thus forced to bowled the mandatory 15 overs in the final session and ending up bowling 91 overs - one extra than required for the day. All this when AB de Villiers and Du Plessis were piling on the runs and putting india in grave danger with their 200+ run partnership. That extra over, in the end, translated as the root cause for concern to the Indian team during the final stages, with the target never out of reach for South Africa.

So what does an extra over in a Test mean? Skippers try to squeeze an extra over before lunch, tea or close of play as an attacking option to hunt down a wicket. Or sometimes, skipper try risking taking a Level 1 offence for slow over rate, get fined to save a Test match for his side. A batsman usually tie his shoe laces or check out a new pair of glove, fake an injury to save himself from facing another over in crunch situations. An over means a lot to a Test match, be it a batsman or a bowler, or a skipper but rarely has an extra over bowled to make a Test match interesting to the spectators, and to hurt its own side.

Perhaps, South Africa's stunning approach caught Dhoni unawares, that a Test he woke up to win and went to bed relieved not to lose. After all it was one of those Test match. And it was one extra over that made it interesting.


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