The opening South Africa Vs India Test wasn’t less than a wavy ride for the visitors. Seam and bounce didn’t seem to have complimented the Indian batsmen throughout what was a fierce baptism of fire in Cape Town.
What made the Kohli-led side loose the gruelling Test despite bowling out the Proteas on 286 post Tea on day 1? How did India fall short of 72 runs gain the lead in the 3-match Test series? Let’s scrutinise the facts which played a catalyst in India’s derailment:
Lack of exposure
First things first! The Indian team management straightforwardly opted to conduct training sessions instead of a two-day warm up game ahead of the high-voltage series. This meant India had to head to the Test series without a test of endurance on South African decks. Although the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah dazzled initially, batting is what cost India the required edge. India will have to acclimatise to the grinding conditions quickly if they are to nip the hosts in their own backyard.
Top order failure
Having cleared the injury row a day before the game, Shikhar Dhawan opened the Indian innings with a riveting cover drive in what probably was the first and the final assault on the South African bowlers in the Test. The southpaw then gave away his wicket cheaply trying to attempt a pull shot off Steyn, who made his comeback after a year and half.
Murali Vijay looked particularly perturbed by some snagging movement across the wicket. Cheteshwar Pujara might have shown initial resistance but failed to carry on eventually, while the Indian skipper Virat Kohli stood true to his demeanour chasing the ball outside the off stump regularly which led to his dismissal. The top order needs to hit the rescue button for a turnaround in the upcoming Test as Centurion will give no respite.
Ajinkya Rahane – The man to be looked upon
The decision to drop Ajinkya Rahane for Rohit Sharma raised quite a few eyebrows, perhaps rightly so. Dropping him in a Test inside the subcontinent is still a digestible fact than ruling him out overseas, especially in South Africa wherein he averages over 50. Kohli in the post match press conference stated Rohit’s form behind his selection in the playing XI. Clearly, his intentions were to go for form over the conditions. Rahane undoubtedly underwent a lean patch across formats in 2017, but his credentials overseas are suffice to be chosen over the latter. If India have to win this do or die clash, then they have to deploy their best craftsman of such conditions in the middle.
Playing the right bowling combination
Bumrah’s wicket taking ability earned him a spot in the Indian squad at Cape Town. The bowler with a precarious acton appeared too raw in front of the experienced South African batting line up, which included the likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Quinton De Kock and Faf Du Plessis. Besides, Ishant Sharma having performed well in both the international and domestic circuit is expected to replace the seamer. Also, if Ashwin gets benched, then India will either have the option of playing four frontline seamers or including both Rahane and Rohit in the XI, which is unlikely looking at the wicket.
Pandya has to hold the baton
Hardik Pandya’s miraculous knock in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan, even when India had lost all the hope, was suffice to determine his proficient all-round attributes. His recent 93-run knock at Cape Town only to rescue the Indian innings was also a testimony of this fact. He turned out to be the only batsman to have reaped dividends, also removing the Proteas openers early on in the 2nd innings.
Despite all his comparisons with the great Kapil Dev, India are in a dire need to define his role in the team, a No. 6 batsman or an average looking bowler. While Kapil Dev was a bowling all-rounder who became India’s greatest ever fast bowler, batting was a skill he developed with time. Pandya on the contrary is more of a technically sound batsman than a threatening bowler who could turn the tables around for India at Centurion. In 4 matches so far, he has scored 272 runs at an average of 54.40 with two fifties and 1 hundred.
The Centurion pitch curator Bryan Bloy reiterated that the wicket would be on the slower side initially and it could offer some turn eventually. “Normally, we don’t take a lot of turn, but as the pitch deteriorates, the guys will get turn. I’m sure they’ll get turn throughout the match, they’re just not going to get big turn. In One-Day and T20 cricket, teams bowl spinners after all. So, we do take some turn but we’re not renowned to take a lot of turn,” he said.
He added, “No major seam movement, possibly a little bit in the morning on Day 1, it will nibble around. But it won’t turn sideways or anything like that.”
The Proteas bowling coach Ottis Gibson in the pre-match conference hinted to go with the same strategy at Centurion. With Steyn leaving the match mid-way due to injury, Chris Morris will likely make his way in the team in place of the fast bowler.
“I’m a very fast-bowling minded coach and I guess we will always have to find a balance to see if we can get four fast bowlers in the team, first of all. We’ll look at things like are the conditions suited to four fast bowlers. If not we try and shape the team in other ways. Ultimately, especially in this series and for the rest of the summer, we will be looking to see how best we can fit four fast bowlers into whatever formula we come up with,” Gibson said.
India’s Predicted XI
KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
South Africa’s Predicted XI
Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf Du Plessis (C), Quinton de Kock (WK), Vernon Philaner, Chis Morris, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel