South Africa and India, enemies on Sunday, friends yesterday. The two teams boarded a chartered flight from Lucknow to Indore, before they resume on-field hostilities in Indore tomorrow.
This is the way it will be for much of this tour; constantly bumping into each other, as they take their skills to every part of India.
But one team is having the better of it for now.
“Cricket is a funny game, and we know that it can change quickly. It changed for us (on Sunday), and winning a game like that is crucial, because five-matches is a long time in a series,” Hashim Amla smiled.
While the Proteas welcomed the day off, India are licking considerable wounds, made considerably deeper by the loss of Ravi Ashwin for the rest of the one-day series.
Ashwin, India’s only threat with the ball on this tour, strained his side during Sunday’s epic one-day series opener in Kanpur, and seemingly aggravated it when he returned and tried to bowl at the death of their five-run loss to South Africa.
“Ravi is a big loss for us, and I highly doubt that he will play in Indore. He will be assessed overnight,” skipper MS Dhoni told media after the match.
Subsequently, sources close to the team expressed fears that the off-spinner may not return at all before the Test series, which will force Dhoni to look to veteran Harbhajan Singh and leg-spinner Amit Mishra.
They do not have the same throttling effect that Ashwin has, and the Proteas may well run merry over the next few matches. The problem for India is that no one else seems capable of exerting any pressure on South Africa’s batsmen, and the tourists have all looked in ominous form - except when facing Ashwin.
The Proteas themselves have a spinning threat who has been influential. Imran Tahir, a man whose enthusiasm refuses to be dimmed, hauled SA back into the contest on Sunday, before Kagiso Rabada applied the finishing touches.
“I think this whole team just doesn’t give up. We knew it wasn’t easy to bat on there, so we were waiting for the big shot, to try and open the door again,” Tahir said.
“I just tried to land in my areas, and if it went for six, then so be it. We knew that Raina would go for the big shot, and by then the pressure was on them. I am just so happy, man! So proud, you know.”
Tahir’s pride is etched on his chest, and proclaimed loudly whenever he gets a wicket. When he cried out in delight at the double strike of Rohit Sharma and then Suresh Raina, you could just about make out his delight, as 20 000 Indians were silenced.
“We knew we had a chance, and you could tell that the crowd knew it too. It was a tough game of cricket, but also a great game. And for us, there is no better feeling than winning games like that, because we didn’t give up. The belief in this team is huge,” he remarked.
It’s not the first time that the Proteas camp has spoken of belief. But, in sport, talk is cheap. Performances like Sunday’s echo far deeper to anyone who doubts the talk, because they show that it comes from a sincere source.
“We knew that one wicket would change the game. Rohit batted brilliantly. It isn’t often that someone scores 150 and doesn’t end on the winning side, or his team doesn’t get to 300, but we never stopped believing,” Amla added.
The tourists are also feeling the effects of Sunday’s cliffhanger. Skipper AB de Villiers was too exhausted to even make it to the press conference, after starring with the bat, and then plotting the hijacking at the 11th hour.
Faf du Plessis also didn’t take to the field, after twisting the same knee that kept him out of the New Zealand ODI series. He will be assessed ahead of tomorrow’s match in Indore.
But, these problems appear a lot smaller when you are winning.