As is evident from excellent articles written here, here, here and here, the 4th of January 2011 was a glorious day for cricket. Truly, the words 'test match' were dissected cleanly and explained with a fierce clarity that should leave no one in doubt - this is the sport of cricket distilled to its finest base elements. However, that day has passed and I will not attempt to add descriptions or superlatives to it. Instead, I wonder about today and tomorrow, the 4th and 5th days of what could be a test for all time.
If India are to have any chance of winning, they have to bowl out the South Africans for less than 200 runs. At the most, 220 - 230. With the SA bowling attack... actually who am I kidding; with Steyn bowling as he is, we cannot chase any more than that. If, by some chance, in the 2nd innings, he repeats or betters (yes, you heard it here first) those two spells from yesterday, we are finished. I believe this completely and utterly. Yes, we have a great batting line-up. It is quite likely one of the few line-ups in world cricket that has the technical competence to stand a remote chance against the SA attack on this pitch at this stage of the game. But GG is pugnacious rather than supremely accomplished, CP has youth and reflexes on his side but no experience and our holy triumvirate must be, for every magical moment they've ever given us, tired.
Which brings me to the crux of the matter - IF we are to stand a chance, I argue that VS cannot play his 'natural game'. I know, I know. He is a game changer. When it comes together, his batting is a joy to behold. To play any other way would be akin to asking a hurricane to be gentle. I accept all of these ideas. I can even see the half-exasperated, half-resigned shake of the head and the wry smile when my idea is voiced.
I'm also getting exhausted hearing these ideas trumpeted every god-damn time he fails. I don't know if his successes are becoming excuses for his failures, but I'm sure that is not how it is supposed to rationalise either.
He is an opener. Never mind what he is expected to do, what he isn't expected to do is treat the role as if he were the chief guest at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the innings. I'm not asking him to become Chanderpaul (heaven forbid) and grind the opposition into dust. Still, this is his last test outing in SA on this tour and no one can know what the future holds.
So here is what I'm hoping for - he bats, he gives bad deliveries what they deserve and, it being Sehwag, even the good ones get thrashed. But he must recognise that Steyn and the rest are bowling extremely well and that he cannot dominate them from the start. If he sees out the initial bowling partnership, this could be India's game.
Great batsmen like SRT, RD and VVS adapt to the conditions and the situation. VS changes them. In his case though, true greatness would lie in adopting the ways of his senior colleagues just this once. On the strength of their records, it would be no shame.
Its not just a game any more.
Song for the moment: Ecstacy of Gold - Ennio Morricone