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A good chance to make it a marquee rivalry

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CATCH IT IF YOU CAN... The Indian players enjoy themselves at a practice session at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Monday.
CATCH IT IF YOU CAN... The Indian players enjoy themselves at a practice session at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Monday.

Nandita Sridhar

India-South Africa clashes have never shown a sense of urgency

Chennai: This is one rivalry which has never pushed for an identity. Through the course of their 19 Tests, India and South Africa have never shown a sense of urgency in their clashes. The prospect of losing wasn’t dreaded; neither was winning the sole pursuit. Six draws have been witnessed. India has won just four while South Africa nine.

However, the teams lined up for this series promise a shift in direction. Good form and fortune have struck sides concurrently.

Personality clashes, unlike in Australia, will be on a much lesser scale.

The pace might appear sedate in comparison, but playing for the No. 2 spot in Tests will be motivation enough for the quality to stand out.

Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Wasim Jaffer, who did not play in the gruelling CB series down under, are assumed to be fresh.

History will intimidate neither of the teams. In the past, India’s cohesive lack of dealing with South African wickets was equally matched by South Africa in India, even if the wickets complied in adding to the drudgery. The balance was altered in 1999, but restored thereafter.

Most rivalries are centred on orchestrated drama or manufactured dislike. Purely cricketing rivalries demand a lot out of skills and match-ups which is difficult to sustain over generations.

Allan Donald-Sachin Tendulkar has been exciting, but not enough to speak for more than a 15-year bilateral history.

Controversies

Controversies have lent the rivalry colour, and individual performances have helped in recall-value. There has been earnestness, but sometimes, a lack of charm.

In the ’91-92 series, Praveen Amre’s efforts on a spiteful pitch were heartening, as was Kapil Dev’s 129 in response to his teammates’ failures.

The anticlimax of a draw in the end tapered down the interest levels. The second instalment of the rivalry in ’96-97 struggled with its identity. The cricket upfront carried purely a sub-human appeal, after which runs were accumulated in a compensatory frenzy.

Finally, forced into meeting unforeseen demands, the visitors succumbed.

For a variety of reasons, the series was denied contests that befitted the players’ stature.

One of the strongest South African sides meeting one of India’s strongest at home deserved better.

Mission accomplished

In response, South Africa laid out tracks meant to disintegrate. The mission was accomplished. Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin offered solace, but the rest were exposed.

The last decade

From an Indian perspective, the last decade has witnessed a home series loss, the controversial Mike Denness episode, a listless series and the country’s first Test win on South African soil.

Very rarely have the two sides met on a competitive platform. Their good fortunes have seldom overlapped.

Now is as good a chance as ever to coerce this into resembling a marquee rivalry. The sides, nearing Australia, deserve the same.

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