Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were brilliant, the catching was first class, the attitude was calmly aggressive and the discipline was faultless on the first day of the first Test at Supersport Park. That was available for all to see.
What wasn’t on show, at least to the majority of viewers, was the attention to detail and exquisite planning which had gone into reducing India to 136-9. It is not unusual for teams to plan and strategise for the dismissals of each and every batsman, but to see so many plans come to fruition on the same day – never mind such a curtailed one – was very rare indeed.
It started with the abject humiliation of Virender Sehwag who’s inability to control the instincts which serve him so well on the subcontinent threaten to place an indelible stain on an otherwise extraordinary and game-changing career. Nobody has ever scored as many runs in the top order at a strike rate of 82 (Adam Gilchrist is the only one to bear comparison in the lower order) but unless Sehwag, who was exposed horribly in South Africa four years ago, is able to adapt his game to conditions less favourable, he may always be remembered as a flat track bully. Albeit the best of them all.
Sehwag’s dismissal was a triumph of planning for the Proteas. Whereas some plans are subtle and need to be employed with a degree of secrecy, the one which accounted for the blazing opener needed to be as open and ostentatious as possible. It needed to challenge his indomitable self-belief, it needed to be so obvious that he was insulted by its simplicity. He needed to be offended. And he was.
Then Steyn needed to bowl exactly the right deliveries, which he did. Wide, driveable deliveries outside off stump are not what fast bowlers grow up practising. They are, in the normal course of events, ‘bad’ deliveries. But to Sehwag, they are irresistible candy, no matter that he is not settled and his innings has barely begun. “I’ve been hitting this rubbish out of the stadium for years,” his subconscious yells at him. And despite his own planning sessions having concluded that he should not launch himself into his trademark drives so early in South African conditions, he could not control his instincts.
Corrie van Zyl is a meticulous thinker and analyst. He is also an unrelenting task-master who believes that hard work is every bit as important as planning when it comes to winning. Whatever happens in the rest of the Test match, and series, van Zyl and his coaching team deserve to be recognised for the extraordinary day they enjoyed on Thursday. The men behind the scenes are, understandably, judged almost exclusively on the results of the team. But this was a day when they deserve to be lauded just for the day.
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