Category: _author:Arnab Sen

Mayank Markande – The Accidental Leg-spinner’s…

New Delhi: For Bikram Sharma, a government servant in the city of Patiala in Punjab and his wife Sandeep Sharma, a boutique owner, life hasn’t been the same since the beginning of 2018. Over the last decade, the couple had devoted most of their time in helping their son fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional cricketer. Despite him being picked by three-time IPL champions Mumbai Indians, the couple didn’t expect their 20-year old son to play in the tournament’s season opener. To watch him not just play the match but also pick up the big wicket of former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was a priceless moment.

“Mayank would ask me to play cricket with him as a kid. I realised he was very keen about the sport and put him in an academy. His mother and I would take him everywhere for the cause of cricket. Be it local tournaments or camps, we did everything to let Mayank follow his dreams. There was opposition from his school when he was representing Punjab in age group tournaments, but we decided to let him pursue his dreams.”

“Even when he was picked up by Mumbai Indians, we just thought that he could get to play a few matches towards the end of the round robin matches. But to see him play the opener and pick up the wicket of MS Dhoni was unbelievable. We couldn’t believe what was happening,” an elated Bikram Sharma told Cricketnext, while talking about his son Mayank Markande’s sensational debut in the IPL.

Markande picked up three wickets in Mumbai Indians’ opener against Chennai Super Kings and followed that up with a four-wicket haul against Sunrisers Hyderabad. While the defending champions were on the wrong end of the result on both occasions, Markande caught everyone’s attention with his guile and variety.

“He was working with me on his plans for certain batsmen here in Patiala before the IPL. After the match against CSK, we spoke over phone the next morning and he told me that he had planned MS Dhoni’s dismissal. He had even planned Rayudu’s dismissal by bowling him the flipper. The most important thing about Mayank is the amount of confidence he has, even as a youngster. He knows everything about his own game and works accordingly. This will hold him in good stead in future as he will now step into first-class cricket,” a proud coach Mahesh Inder Singh told Cricketnext.

Punjab off-spinner Mahesh Inder Singh, a veteran of 55 first-class matches, has spent over two decades, training and coaching budding cricketers in Punjab. He guided his own son, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, to the Indian national team. It was Singh, who first spotted Markande’s flexible wrists and asked him to shift his focus from pace bowling to leg spin.

“He was 8 years old when he joined my academy around 2006. There was a spark in him even as a kid. He was interested in becoming a fast bowler as a youngster. He used to bowl a particular delivery which was like a slower one coming out of the back of his hand. I observed him a few times and realised that his wrists had a natural flexibility. It was pretty much like how BS Chandrasekhar used to bowl.”

“I spoke to his father and asked him if he was fine if we tried to mould him into a leg spinner. His father asked me to take charge of his ward and we started the process to teach the kid how to bowl leg breaks. His wrists are so flexible that he doesn’t need to put in any extra effort to bowl the googlies. He developed an interest in leg spin bowling and that’s how his focus shifted,” Singh said while talking about the turning point in Markande’s cricket career.

Markande has played in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the domestic T20 and ODI tournaments respectively, but is yet to play in the Ranji Trophy for Punjab. His coach feels that his exploits in the IPL will boost his confidence and he could do well in the longer format as well.

“A cricketer’s true pedigree comes to the fore only in the longest format and it is more so for bowlers. Mayank can bowl the traditional leg spin delivery and also has a potent googly, if he manages to achieve a good line and length along with his variations, I see him playing in all formats for Punjab and who knows, an India cap might be waiting for him,” Singh signed off on a hopeful note.

Markande, who has 10 wickets in List A matches and 12 wickets in domestic T20 matches, would for now hope that he could contribute to Mumbai Indians’ campaign this season, which has once against started slowly with three back to back losses.

Smith Misguiding a Junior Player Is Far More D…

The term captain comes from a Latin word ‘Caput’ which loosely translates to a ‘head’. A captain, in most cases, is not just a man barking out orders but also walking the talk and setting examples. A man chosen for the captain’s job on a cricket field has to make sacrifices, take tough calls and is expected on most occasions to be selfless. His is the job to guide and teach, as much it is to take the bull by horns when needed.

Sport at the highest level can be cruel. On days, being a sportsman can be as tough as it was being a Wall Street broker on September 18, 2008. The constant glare of the media, the overbearing burden of expectations and the desire as a professional to succeed at any cost are all reasons that could help Steven Smith mount a defense, when probed in detail by the authorities. But is planning to tamper with the ball his biggest crime? There have been instances of ball tampering in the past and players have been sanctioned for their misdemeanor. What sets Smith’s act apart is how he failed as a leader on Saturday. What was worse was the way he tried to move on from the incident in a matter-of-fact manner. Sample this –

“We made a poor choice. We deeply regret our actions. Coaches weren’t involved. It was purely the players in the leadership group”.

“I can promise you it won’t happen again. It’s the first time this has happened. We will move on from this and hopefully learn something from it. I’m embarrassed. I feel for Cam. It’s not what the Australian cricket team is about. I am incredibly sorry.

"It’s a poor reflection on everyone in that dressing room and particularly the leaders in the group.”

All these lines sound like a well rehearsed speech, said in as unapologetic a manner as possible. Smith wasn’t sorry, he was scared and one can’t help but compare Saturday’s press conference with the Aussie captain’s defense during the ‘brain fade’ controversy.

Smith could have tampered the ball himself. He could have asked another senior player to try his luck. But to choose Cameron Bancroft, who hasn’t even played 10 international matches, to carry out the dirty work shows Smith’s immaturity. Perhaps the reason why his crime in my book is as big as that of a Hansie Cronje or a Salman Butt. Both these leaders used their position to influence lesser players to indulge in wrongdoing. A cheat is a cheat and Smith used his powers as the team’s captain to influence a younger player to do something that could ruin the youngster’s career forever.

A former Australian opener and current selector had once told this reporter that Steven Smith could be the strongest Australian skipper since Allan Border, due to the absolute respect he commands from his folks. Smudge it seems has taken that respect a bit too seriously.

Jhulan Goswami Back for T20s After Injury Lay-…

New Delhi: Veteran seamer Jhulan Goswami was named in the Indian women’s team for the T20 tri-series involving Australia and England with Harmanpreet Kaur back as the leader.

The tri-series will be played between March 22-31.

Taniya Bhatia will keep the wickets just like she had done during the South Africa T20s while there aren’t too many changes in the team. Smriti Mandhana will be Harmanpreet’s deputy. Veteran Rumeli Dhar has also retained her place in the squad after a decent show against the Proteas women.

India Women’s T20I squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Mithali Raj, Veda Krishnamurthy, Jemimah Rodrigues, Anuja Patil, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Rumeli Dhar, Mona Meshram.

Here’s the schedule for the tri-series

March 22: India vs Australia

March 23: Australia vs England

March 25: India vs England

March 26: India vs Australia

March 28: Australia vs England

March 29: India vs England

March 31: Final

All matches will be held at the CCI, Mumbai.

Mohammed Shami to be Investigated by Anti-corr…

New Delhi: In the wake of the corruption charges levelled against cricketer Mohammed Shami by his wife Hasin Jahan, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has asked its anti-corruption wing to launch an investigation into the matter.

Speaking to Cricketnext, a senior official of the board informed that the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) has written an e-mail letter to ACSU head Neeraj Kumar to investigate the matter and respond with findings in a week’s time.

The letter, which is in possession of Cricketnext, states – “The Committee of Administrators is concerned only with such portion of the said audio recording in which the person who it is claimed is Md. Shami is heard saying another person by the name of “Mohammad Bhai” had sent money to Md. Shami through a Pakistani lady by the name of “Alisba”.

"Please investigate the above assertions/ allegations under the BCCI Anti-Corruption Code and submit a report to the Committee of Administrators with your findings as to whether there is any basis to proceed further in terms thereof. The investigation should cover (i) the identity and antecedents of “Mohammad Bhai” and “Alisba”; (ii) whether any money was in fact sent by the said Mohammad Bhai through the said Alisba to Md. Shami; and (iii) if yes, the purpose for which the said money was received by Md. Shami.”

On March 8, Hasin had also alleged that Shami could be involved in match-fixing after making allegations that he had accepted money from a Pakistani woman.

“He accepted money from a Pakistani girl named Alisbah in Dubai. He agreed to accept it on the insistence of England-based Mohammed Bhai. I have proof. This could be linked to match fixing,” she had said.

Meanwhile, the cricketer rubbished all the allegations made by Hasin and said, “I always stood beside her and I don’t know why she is behaving like this now. I still believe that the issue could be resolved through talks.”

On match-fixing charges he had said, “I will prefer to die than involved in such anti-national act.”

Later Shami took to Facebook to defend his position: “Ye jitna bhi news hamara personal life ke bare may chal raha hai, ye sab sarasar jhut hai, ye koi bahut bada humare khilap sajish hai or ye mujhe Badnam karne or mera game kharab karne ka kosis ki ja rahi hai. (All these news that are being circulated about our personal life is false. It’s a major conspiracy and an attempt to ruin my name and game.)”

Rahul Dravid’s Imprints Clear in India’s Title…

New Delhi: At the end it was yet another convincing and comprehensive victory, as Prithvi Shaw and his boys romped home against Australia in the final of the U-19 World Cup. The victory, an unprecedented fourth for the ‘Boys in Blue’ once again establishes India’s supremacy at this level.

Not only were the Indians ruthless, the professionalism with which they played showcased why many consider India’s cricketing future to be bright. The U-19 World Cup has given India several stars over the years, the biggest of them being current Indian captain Virat Kohli, who had led the U-19 team to World Cup glory as well.

While India has been the strongest nation at this level, one cannot ignore the efforts put in by one of Indian cricket’s legends to make the colts world beaters with a difference. Rahul Dravid in his role as coach of the team failed at the final hurdle in 2016, but has delivered the Cup this time around.

Former Indian U-19 World Cup winning captain Unmukt Chand believes that this victory had Dravid’s signature all over it, as he hailed the momentous win during a chat with CricketNext.

“Rahul Dravid is a gift for all the youngsters. His deep insight about every player’s game is something that is going to help these youngsters and all those under the stalwart’s tutelage. This was a professional performance from the boys and Dravid is the one responsible for it,” Unmukt said during a telephonic conversation.

Unmukt Chand himself had scored an unbeaten ton in the final of the 2012 World Cup, the last time the blue brigade won the trophy, that triumph too came against the Australians. The talented batsman though feels this is just the beginning for the young stars.

“Winning the World Cup is a great high and these boys deserve all the attention that they will get. Many of them have already been rewarded with IPL contracts. But the real Test will be when they play their first domestic season. They need to take it forward from there. I wish each one of them the very best.”

Unmukt hailed the BCCI’s efforts in promoting the game at the grassroot level for India’s strong show at global age group tournaments.

“I think the BCCI is doing a great job in promoting the game in the country. Be it U-19 or any other age group, we have tournaments and guidance in place to groom talented youngsters. The National Cricket Academy has also been a huge help for all young cricketers,” the Delhi batsman, who guided his team to Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy recently, told Cricketnext.

While there were a few cricketers who caught Unmukt’s eye with their performance, he wasn’t ready to divulge the names, maintaining that a World Cup can only be won through teamwork.

“I think all of them played their part in this great victory. There will always be standout performances but a team needs to fight as a group to win a tournament like this,” the right hand batsman signed off.

Virat Kohli’s Show of Intent Reminiscent of So…

Nothing makes for a better story in sports than the triumph of the human spirit. The ability of its protagonist to stand up tall even in the face of adversity. Sometimes batting on South African pitches might seem like an insurmountable adversity. Batsmen often feel like the Allied soldiers did, on the beach of Normandy, not knowing which bullet (read delivery) would have their name written on it.

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly wasn’t the most accomplished Test batsman of his era, specially, given the company he kept in the Indian team. He lacked Dravid’s technique, Tendulkar’s genius and Laxman’s finesse. What he didn’t lack though was grit and attitude. The same grit that compelled the selectors to bring him back into the national team during India’s tour to South Africa in 2006-07, after being dropped and stripped off his captaincy due to a prolonged bad patch.

Ask which was Sourav Ganguly’s most memorable Test innings outside the sub-continent and people will say the counter-attacking 144 at the Gabba in Brisbane. But that came against a pace attack sans Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee. Some would mention the knocks on his maiden tour to England. But the one knock that stands out for me was the unbeaten 51 he made in the first innings of first Test against South Africa at the Wanderers in what was his comeback Test.

Sourav Ganguly the batsman had changed. He wasn’t afraid of the short delivery anymore. He wasn’t ducking for cover, ready to get hit on the body, play and miss and yet play his shots. The knock essentially proved to be a clincher as the Indian bowlers led the team to their first ever Test win on South African soil.

Ganguly would go on to score a double hundred later in his career, but his 101-ball stay in the middle at Johannesburg was perhaps his most telling contribution in an Indian victory away from the sub-continent, something that he took pride in as a captain.

On Wednesday, another Indian captain showed a lot of guts and gumption at the Wanderers. When Virat Kohli decided to bat first after winning the toss, many, including the writer, thought he was committing hara-kiri. Indian batsmen, apart from Kohli who scored a masterful 153 at Centurion, had done nothing to inspire the kind of confidence needed to face the fiery Protean pace attack on a green pitch and it again came down to Kohli, to show his team the way with the bat.

It wasn’t all smooth though. A poorly executed pull shot off Rabada’s express pace would have ended Kohli’s stay early had Philander not made a mess of an easy catch. There were numerous ‘play and miss’ moments outside the off-stump, which must have reminded Kohli of James Anderson from 2014. There was another dropped chance in the slips. But that didn’t deter him from playing a range of exquisite cover drives. He was ready for the incoming delivery as well and played shots off his pads. He knew Cheteshwar Pujara was going to block it all but not score many, and those who were to follow the duo couldn’t have done the bulk of the scoring, so the captain took it upon himself to take India towards a fighting total.

He fell for 54 to Lungi Ngidi, while playing another drive he could have avoided, but you can’t fault him for trying. Virat Kohli has played several top quality knocks in his career so far, but this one at the Wanderers will stand out due to the challenges that stared straight at Kohli’s face, both on and off the field. Whether or not Kohli’s knock goes on to be a match-winning one will depend on how well the Indian bowlers respond. One thing is for sure, Virat Kohli is a better Test batsman than before and is replying to his critics with his bat, just like Ganguly had done in the South African summer of 2006.

AB de Villiers: From and For South Africa, Wit…

Vernon Philander knows every inch of the Newlands stadium in Cape Town. It’s his home stadium, the venue where he made his Test debut a little over 6 years ago and also the track where he has taken more than one-fourth of his total Test wickets so far. Perhaps he could be blind-folded and the medium pacer would still know where to pitch the ball. His nine-wicket match haul against India, which includes a career-best 6/42 in the second innings when the visitors were chasing 208 for a landmark triumph, was indeed worthy of landing him the ‘man of the match’ award. But was it the most telling factor that resulted in yet another South African win at Cape Town? Perhaps not.

On a pitch, where 38 out of the 40 wickets to fall were picked up by seamers within eight and a half sessions, the most significant factor had to be someone’s batting. It had to be an innings of character and strength. It had to be an innings that would turn a 150-run fourth innings chase to one above 200. And it came from the blade of South Africa’s most gifted batsman ever, AB de Villiers.

Jacques Kallis had the ability to grind it out in the middle, even when the chips were down. Graeme Smith had the tenacity of a fighter. Hashim Amla has the fluidity of a river in its downstream when at his best. Ab de Villiers has chutzpah, perhaps the only modern day batsman whose style comes close to the calculated menace, that Sir Viv Richards’ batting had.

COUNTER-ATTACK AT ITS BEST

Bhuvneshwar Kumar was making the ball talk on the first morning. He was moving the cherry both ways off the seam and his three-wicket burst at the top of the order surely would have made Faf du Plessis nervous about his decision to bat first. The fact that it turned out to be a wise call, was because his childhood friend was not ready to be bossed around. Faf himself vindicated his decision by ending the first innings as his team’s second highest scorer, but it was de Villiers’ knock of 65 that changed the script.

When de Villiers came in to bat, South Africa were struggling to put up a fight on home turf. The score read 2 for 7 and it soon became 3 for 12. Bhuvneshwar was immaculate with his line and length and there was a lot of cocky chatter from Kohli and his men. The former South African captain quietly played out one over from Bhuvneshwar, his fourth, after which his figures read 3/7. After the end of his next over, his fifth, his figures were 3/24. de Villiers hit Bhuvneshwar Kumar for four boundaries in an over and that’s where the story of South Africa’s first innings changed. The first two were powerful cover drives which forced the medium pacer to shorten his length and the moment that happened, de Villiers nailed him. He had quietly forced India’s best bowler to bowl a length that he wasn’t comfortable bowling. This is what great batsmen do. They force bowlers to bowl deliveries they could score off.

He was lucky, when he got an inside edge off Shami which ran down to the fine leg fence, but that’s part of the bargain on a pitch like this. Had it not been for Bumrah’s in dipper, India were in for a rough one.

CONTROLLING THE DAMAGE

AB de Villiers’ attacking prowess was on display on the fourth morning as well. Shami and Bumrah had dented South Africa’s second essay badly and India were looking to bowl the Proteas out for under 100 so that they would have to chase a sub-200 target. But de Villiers wasn’t ready to make it that easy for, his ‘bosom-RCB-pal’, Kohli and his men. He counter-attacked again, stroking his way to 35 with the help of two boundaries and two sixes, before eventually holing out in the deep.

This was a man who had not played a Test match, not counting the four-day match against Zimbabwe, for close to a year as he first looked to mentally prepare for the Champions Trophy and then tried hard to overcome yet another debacle in an ICC tournament. I was there at the press conference at The Oval, after India had thrashed South Africa and booted them out of the Champions Trophy. The South African journalists wanted their pound of ABD’s flesh as the ‘c’ word was being spoken in hushed voices. He was a man in pain, he was stammering, he was visibly emotionally drained, but he was stoic. He wanted to continue leading the South African team because he thought he was a ‘good captain’ capable of taking South Africa to a ‘World Cup win’.

Since that day, de Villiers has played in 5 T20 internationals and just 3 one-day internationals, before making a return to the Test arena in a high profile series like this one against India. While covering sports and writing about it, we often tend to forget the emotional aspect of a sportsperson’s life off the field. How bad a loss might hurt someone, how unsettling could the post match questions be. It takes a lot to represent one’s country at the highest level. It takes a lot to remove those mental cobwebs and come out and perform at the highest level, where your every action is under microscopic scrutiny. It takes a lot to be AB de Villiers.

Joe Root ‘Flatters to Deceive’ At Sydney, An A…

Joe Root has often been hailed as one of England’s best ever batsman in Test cricket, with certain sections of the English media calling him the greatest ever. Root, without doubt, has been a phenomenal player for the Three Lions ever since making his debut in 2012. The 30-year old, who was appointed England’s Test captain last year, is new to the pressures of leading a team and concentrating on his game and hence deserves a bit more time to adjust. But for a player being touted as one of the best of his era, being overshadowed by an adversary in the manner that he has been by Australian captain Steve Smith is worrisome.

The ‘baby-faced assasin’ though had a chance to make amends in the fifth and final Test at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground, when he came out to bat on the first day after the dismissal of James Vince. Root kept his end of the bargain as he batted with grit, gumption and his trademark finesse to all but make it a perfect day for England. But then came the second new ball and the English captain gave in to the temptation of playing a stroke he could have avoided.

Mitchell Starc came steaming in and fired it into the pads and the England captain flicked it straight into the hands of Mitchell Marsh at square leg. Root was distraught and the Aussies knew they had got a foot inside the door. Root departed for 83 and he was soon followed by Jonny Bairstow. Austrlia had once again come back from nowhere as England ended the day on 233/5.

This brings us to the discussion about how Joe Root has failed to convert promising starts into big knocks over the past year and a half. In 11 Test matches in 2017, Root scored only two centuries and had eight half-centuries to his name. Not just this, Root’s inability to convert his starts into big knocks was one of the major reasons behind England’s 0-4 loss to India in 2016.

Root as captain has been among runs, scoring at a average of 54.26, which is better than his average of 52.80 as a player. But his conversion rate from fifty to hundred as a captain is just 18.18, while as a player its 28.94.

Not just this, Root is yet to score a century in Australia in 9 matches and that doesn’t put him in good light when compared to Steve Smith, who, despite his unorthodox style, has managed to get runs in different conditions. Not just that, Smith has scored 23 centuries in his Test career so far, which is one more than the number of half-centuries under his belt. This clearly shows that the Australian captain has a very high conversion rate.

In a day and age when players likes Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson are making batting look ridiculously easy in all formats, England’s ‘little Joe’ needs to dig his roots deep on the pitch and deliver some big knocks for his team to be counted as the first among equals.

India in South Africa: History of Test Cricket…

India were the first country to visit South Africa, after their re-admission into international cricket post the apartheid era. The Proteas have been a force to reckon with in international cricket since then and have been a tough destination for touring teams in cricket’s longest format. India, in their past six outings have failed to win a single series and have managed to win only two Test matches. Here’s a look at India’s Test history in the Rainbow Nation.

India in South Africa, 1992-93: South Africa won the series 1-0

This was a historic series as India became the first country to visit the African nation after the end of the apartheid era. But the friendly relations between the two countries didn’t douse the competitive fire among the players as the series was an entertaining one. It started with a draw in the first Test at Durban as the fourth day was washed away due to rain. Omar Henry became the first non-white player to to play for South Africa and was also the oldest ever Test debutant at the ripe age of 40. It was also the match when Sachin Tendulkar became the first player to be given out by the TV umpire. Pravin Amre, making his debut for India, went on to score a century, his painstakingly slow 103 coming in 299 deliveries. South African captain Kepler Wessels also scored a century in the match.

The second Test in Johannesburg also ended in a draw with South African all-rounder stealing the show with a knock of 98 in the first innings and then going on to pick up four wickets with the ball. Sachin Tendulkar stamped his class on South African soil with a first innings century of high quality.

The result finally came in the third Test at Port Elizabeth as India were struck by ‘White Lightening’. Allan Donald’s pace was always going to be disconcerting for the Indians, but his ability to swing the ball gave sleepless nights to the Indian batsmen. Donald’s five-for restricting the Indians to 212 in the first innings. A young Hansie Cronje showcased his ability with the bat as he scored 135 invaluable runs to help the hosts take a first innings lead. Donald returned to pick up 7 wickets in the second innings. Kapil Dev 180-ball 129 in his own inimitable style to gave himself and the other bowlers something to bowl at. But Kepler Wessels scored an unbeaten 95 at the top of the order to take South Africa to their first victory on home soil after re-admission.

The fourth Test at Cape Town was drawn with the batsmen from both the teams cancelling each other out as South Africa registered a series win over the Indians.

India in South Africa, 1996-97: South Africa won the series 2-0

India visited South Africa four years later with the hosts having done wonders to their reputation as a force to reckon with in international cricket. India had just beaten the Proteas in a closely fought home series and Cronje’s team was looking for revenge. And that is what they did in the first Test at Durban as the world witnessed an abject capitulation of India’s batting.

Sachin Tendulkar’s decision to win the toss and field first seemed like a good decision on a seaming pitch as the duo of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad made lofe difficult for the South African batsmen. Prasad’s five-wicket haul could have restricted the hosts to a low total but opener Andrew Hudson stood firm to slam 80 as the Proteas managed to score 235. In response the Indians were blown away by that man, Allan Donald, again as the visitors were bowled out for a paltry 100. Prasad was in his elements again and took another five-for to end with a 10-wicket match haul, but half-centuries from Hudson (52), Adam Bacher (55) and Brian McMillan (51*) propelled South Africa to a second innings total of 259. A chase was never on the cards but the way the Indian batsmen were decimated showed how Indian batting was still years behind when it came to facing quality pace attacks outside the sub-continent. India were bowled out for 66 with Donald picking up four wickets.

Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock ran through the Indian batting during the tour (AFP Photo)

The second Test at Cape Town saw the Proteas declare on a mammoth 529/7 with opener Gary Kirsten (103), Brian McMillan (103*) and Lance Klusener (102*) slamming tons. Sachin Tendulkar’s reputation as one of the game’s leading batsman took a major hit in the first Test. But the ‘little master’ hit back with a stroke filled knock of 169. He was well-supported by skipper Azharuddin who scored 115. But Azhar’s run out triggered a collapse as the Indians were restricted to 359. The Proteas declared their second innings on 256/6 to hand the Indian an improbable chase of 427 runs. Donald and a young Shaun Pollock ensured the Indian were bowled out for 144 as the South Africans pocketed the series.

The third Test at Johannesburg saw India playing for pride and to avoid a whitewash. The decision to bat first worked for the visitors as Rahul Dravid, announced himself on the world stage with his maiden Test ton. His knock of 148 was the bedrock of India’s first innings total of 410 runs. In response South Africa were bowld out for 321 with Javagal Srinath taking a five-wicket haul. India were solid in the second innings too with Dravid again leading with a knock of 81 and Sourav Ganguly, who had scored 73 inthe first innings, followed that up with a knock of 60 as India declared on 266/8 to give themselves a good chance to win the match. India tried hard with Srinath, Prasad and Anil Kumble picking up crucial wickets. But an unbeaten century (122) by Daryl Cullinan denied India their maiden victory of South African soil as the Proteas held on for a draw.

India in South Africa, 2001: South Africa won the series 1-0

India visited South Africa in the new millennium under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly and this was a team that was looking to re-write history away from home. The first Test at Bloemfontain got off to an electric start as the Sachin Tendulkar (155) and debutant Virender Sehwag’s (105) foiled the South African attack. Tendulkar showcased his class on difficult batting conditions and put together 220 runs with Sehwag after a top order collapse to guide India to a total of 379 runs. But the Proteas hit back in style with everyone in the top order getting among runs. Herschelle Gibbs (107) and Lance Klusener (108) slammed tons to power the hosts to a total of 563. Opener Shiv Sundar Das (62) was the only player to score a half-century as the Indians were bowled out for 237 with Shaun Pollock picking up 6 wickets to complete a 10-wicket match haul. South Africa chased down the small target of 54 runs to win the match by 9 wickets.

The second Test at Port Elizabeth was drawn but what occurred in that match had far reaching consequences. ICC match referee Mike Denness was in middle of a major controversy after he decided to hand Sachin Tendulkar a one-match ban for tampering with the seam of the ball. Other India players, including captain Sourav Ganguly, were penalised for ‘over-appealing’ and given suspended bans while Sehwag was banned for a Test. This led to a massive uproar in India and the BCCI demanded removal of the match referee from the final Test. ICC stood its ground and the eventual result was that the final Test of the series was stripped off its official status. The match was easily won by South Africa but the entire episode was in bad taste for players, administrators and fans.

Protesters in India demanding removal of ICC match referee Mike Denness (AFP Photo)

India in South Africa, 2006-2007: South Africa won the series 2-1

India next toured South Africa in late 2006 and this was a time when Indian cricket was at crossroads. It wasn’t the happiest of dressing rooms under coach Greg Chappell and captain Rahul Dravid had a tough task on his hand, specially with former skipper Sourav Ganguly making his international comeback after being dropped from the team due to a spat with Chappell. The first Test at Johannesburg was over in just three days and it was the Indians who registered their maiden win in South Africa.

The tourists were bowled out for 249 with comeback man Sourav Ganguly top scoring with a hard fought 51, perhaps one of his best Test knocks. The mercurial Sreesanth produced one of his best international performance ever to pick up a five-wicket haul as the Proteas were bundled out for 84. India batted again and it was VVS Laxman’s (73) stroke-play that helped the visitors put up 236 on the board. South Africa needed to score 402 in the fourth innings to win the Test and although Ashwell Prince (97) did his best to keep the hsost in the hunt, India eventually won 123 runs to register a landmark win.

South Africa needed to hit back in the second Test at Durban and it was Prince again who led the batting charts with a knock of 121 runs. Sreesanth continued to impress as he picked up four important wickets as India bowled the host out for 328. But it was the turn of the South African pacers to hit back. The trio of Mkhaya Ntini, Andre Nel and a young Morne Morkel didn’t allow any Indian batsman to settle down as the visitors were bowled out for 240. The Proteas declared their second innings on 265/8, to give India a challenging target of 354 runs to win the match and the series. Ntini’s five-wicket burst put paid to those hope as Dravid’s men were bowled out for 179 runs and the series was tied.

The decider at Cape Town was an exciting affair as Indian opener Wasim Jaffer stroked his way to a brilliant century. His knock of 116 was supplemented by Dinesh Karthik (63), Sachin Tendulkar (64) and Sourav Ganguly (66) as India posted a commanding 414 in the first innings. Anil Kumble’s four-wicket burst gave the visitors a slim advantage as they took a first innings lead. The Indians though had no answer to Dale Steyn’s (4/30) pace in the second innings and were bowled out for 169 with the hosts needing 211 to win the match and series after coming from behind. Protea captain Graeme Smith followed up his first innings 94 with a defining knock of 55, which blunted the Indian attack upfront. South Africa eventually won by 5 wickets to pocket the series.

India in South Africa, 2010-2011: Series drawn 1-1

By the time India visited South Africa next, this time under the leadership of MS Dhoni, they were already the top Test playing nation in the world and needed to guard that reputation. But the visitors were given a rude welcome at Centurion as Morne Morkel (5/20) and Dale Steyn (3/34) ran through the Indian batting to bowl them out for 136. In response the Proteas put up a mammoth 620/4 with a double century from the blade of Jacques Kallis (201*), Hashim Amla (140) and AB de Villiers (129). Virender Sehwag (80) and Gautam Gambhir (63) put up a century stand and the old warhorse Sachin Tendulkar gave another reminder of his ageless class with an unbeaten 111, but couldn’t save India from an innings and 25-run loss.

The second Test at Durban started on similar lines with Dale Steyn ripping the heart out of India’s batting with a six-wicket haul as the visitors were bowled out for 205. Harbhajan Singh (4/10) spun a magic web around the South African batsmen as India hit back strong to bowl the Proteas out for 131. VVS Laxman’s rescue effort under pressure, which saw him miss out on a well deserved ton by 2 runs was the cornerstone of India’s second innings total of 228 all out. The Proteas needed 303 runs to win the match but the Indian pace duo of Zaheer Khan (3/57) and Sreesanth (3/45) didn’t give them a chance as India won by 87 runs to tie the series.

The final Test at Cape Town was all about two run machines from another generation putting up an exhibition of quality Test batting. Jacques Kallis slammed centuries in each innings of the match to give South Africa a glimmer of hope. But Sachin Tendulkar’s first innings 146, in what was his second last innings on South African soil, meant the match would end in a draw and India for the first time left South African shores without losing a Test series.

Sachin Tendulkar acknowledges the applause after scoring a century at Cape Town in the 2010 tour (Getty Images)

India in South Africa, 2013: South Africa won the series 1-0

A bitter war between BCCI nad Cricket South Africa led to a curtailed tour as India only played two Test matches. The visitor’s by now had developed a reputation of poor travellers, having lost almost everything outside the sub-continent. It was up to a new generation of players to try and change that. Virat Kohli, the new lynchpin of Indian batting, showcased his class in the first Test as he slammed a combative 119, in the face of quality seam bowling by Vernon Philander (4/61) and Morne Morkel (3/34). India were bowled out for 280 in the first innings.

Virat Kohli during his knock of 119 against South Africa (Getty Images)

Zaheer Khan (4/88) and Ishant Sharma (4/79) responded in style to scuttle the Proteas for 244 in the first innings as teh visitors took a slender lead. A second innings century from Cheteshwar Pujara (153) and another quality knock from Virat Kohli (96) meant India put up 421 on the board and gave the South Africans an improbable target to chase. A century opening stand between Graeme Smith (76) and Alviro Petersen (44) gave hope to the hosts and while India were hoping to wrap up the match, two childhood friends, Faf du Plessis (134) and AB de Villiers (103), almost took the Proteas home. The match was eventually drawn with South Africa 8 runs short of the target with three wickets in hand.

The second Test at Durban saw the Indian top order putting up a good fight as Murali Vijay (97) and Cheteshwar Pujara (70) helped the tourists reach 334. South Africa’s response was huge as they put up 500 on the board, Jacques Kallis leading the way with a century in his last Test innings. India were bowled out for 223 in the second innings despite a high quality knock of 96 from Ajinkya Rahane. South Africa completed the formalities to win the match by 10 wickets and also won the series.

Professional Players & Sporting Wickets Helpin…

Wasim Jaffer had seen it all in his 21-year long first class career. So, when the 39-year old veteran came out to bat in the final of this season’s Ranji Trophy, he didn’t have much to lose. Jaffer though didn’t know how to lose a Ranji final, as he had been in eight of them before and won them all with the indomitable Mumbai.

Vidarbha, eyeing their maiden title, were in a spot of bother with their two top scorers this season, captain Faiz Fazal and Ganesh Satish, back in the hut and Delhi’s first innings total of 295 still far away. This is when Jaffer decided to play his most telling knock of the season as he camped at one end and took Vidarbha to safety despite wickets falling around him. His efforts coupled with that of the lower order gave Vidarbha a big first innings lead and that paved the way for a fairytale end to the season for Vidarbha. A proud Jaffer says he knew the team had the potential to go a long way this season but winning the title is a bonus, during an exclusive chat with Cricketnext.

“When I left Mumbai no one really thought I will play another Ranji trophy final, leave alone winning the title. And to be honest, neither did anyone in the Vidarbha team think it could be possible. But I was always hopeful of this team doing well. During the pre-season camp I could see that the team had lot of talented players and if they played as a team, something special could happen.”

“My predictions came true as we started playing and to win the title is a dream come true for these players. It is a different territory for these boys and perhaps a big stepping stone in their career,” said Jaffer, the highest run-scorer in the history of India’s elite domestic tournament.

Jaffer, who has been associated with Vidarbha since 2015-16 season, was a run machine for Mumbai at the top of the order. But his role as a professional cricketer with a smaller team like Vidarbha has been different. He has batted in the middle-order to provide much needed steel and has played his role in the development of youngsters. The former India opener actually singled out the role of professional cricketers as a major catalyst in improving the fortunes of smaller teams.

“Professional players help in building a winning mentality. Their experience comes in handy during pressure situations and the youngsters can learn a lot from them. I remember the kind of effect the likes of Aakash Chopra and Hrishikesh Kanitkar had on the Rajasthan team, when they went on to win their maiden title.”

“Infrastructure also plays a huge part in the development of a team and the likes of Andhra, Kerala and Gujarat have led the way in the recent years. Even in Vidarbha, the administrators deserve a pat on their back for improving the facilities,” the former Mumbai captain said.

Jaffer, who is the only batsman to breach the ten thousand-run mark in Ranji Trophy, said that sporting wickets and the home and away format is helping in bringing about a level playing field in Ranji Trophy, that is in turn helping the smaller teams beat the established order.

“To win the Ranji Trophy these days you need a good bowling attack and that’s what we had this time. Gone are the days when matches were played on belters. The quality of the pitches have improved and a major reason for the that is the involvement of BCCI curators. Sporting pitches help produce better cricketers.”

The veteran batsman also heaped praise on paceman Rajneesh Gurbani, who played a pivotal role in Vidarbha’s success as he picked up 39 wickets this season, and finished as the second highest wicket-taker.

“He was the spearhead of the attack. Although Umesh played in the semi-final, but Rajneesh led from the front. He in fact did well in the knockouts and that is what matters. Players having a big game temperament always have an extra edge. He has a long way to go as this is only his second season but his performances augur well for Vidarbha as well as Indian cricket,” the veteran of 241 first-class matches said.

Jaffer also singled out coach Chandrakant Pandit as the man responsible for the turnaround in the fortunes of Vidarbha.

“Lot of credit goes to Chandrakant Pandit as he brought these players out of their comfort zone. He helped improve the fitness of the players and made them believe in their abilities.”

“From the first match itself the focus was on the performance of the entire team and not on individual goals. Pandit helped in making the boys play as a team. He organised a lot of group activities and that is the kind of bonding needed in a long tournament like Ranji Trophy,” Jaffer said.

Talking about his own international career, which lasted 31 Test matches, Jaffer said that he doesn’t regret not getting a call-up post 2008 despite scoring a bagful of runs in domestic cricket.

“My international career is a long way back in the past and I don’t really think about it anymore. I am a firm believer in destiny and I don’t regret things that have not happened. I should be thankful that I got to represent my country at least and I did that for 31 Test matches. That was and will always remain the proudest moment of my life, that I played for my country. I still enjoy playing the sport and have the motivation in me to help youngsters. Hopefully I will continue,” said Jaffer, who has 1944 runs under his belt in Test cricket.

Talking about India’s tour to South Africa, Jaffer said that the Indian team has a good chance because of it’s strong bowling unit. He also said that Murali Vijay and KL Rahul are capable of giving India good starts.

“India has a strong chance this time as this is a very motivated and talented bunch. The first day of the first Test will be crucial and India needs to take the initiative and build on that momentum. Shikhar seems to be injured right now and in his absence KL Rahul can forge a good partnership with Murali Vijay. Rahul has a good technique while Vijay has showed his class outside the sub-continent.” the nine-time Ranji champion signed off.