Plenty of cricket still to be played in the series

bumrah

Free-flowing advice has poured in from across the cricketing world for Virat Kohli and his teammates after the setback at Newlands. Much of it for the batsmen, a little to bowlers and the team management.

Old-timers talked about the batsmen’s lack of technique, the line and length of the bowlers and some dissected the team selection and some others turned sports psychologists going into the mindset of players when the seaming ball is flying around.

All after one bad defeat. This is not the first time the India team was rattled by fast bowlers nor is it the first time they lost the first Test of a series. Why overseas, they lost the first Test even at home to Australia by a massive 333 runs at Pune last year and before that to Sri Lanka at Galle. On both the occasions they bounced back to take the series 2-1. The difference is in both the Tests it was not the pace but the spin of Steve O’Keefe and Rangana Herath that baffled the Indians.

The situation is different now, and also the conditions. The bounce in South Africa is disconcerting to the batsmen, and, to make matters worse, the seaming ball posed questions at the Newlands. It is not that the batsmen have not coped with such conditions. They have done well in different atmospheric and pitch conditions in England, Australia and in South Africa, managing to win Tests if not series like they are used to back home.

No one can allege that India win Tests on doctored pitches any longer. South Africa, England and Australia were beaten on good wickets the last time they toured India. For that matter, Kohli did not blame the Newlands pitch for his team’s defeat, he was all praise for it as it had something for everyone. Batsmen who could play the cut and pull were happy with the bounce and so were those who could hit through the line. Only those who poked at deliveries well outside their off-stump or played across the line looked inept and ungainly.

Having said that, on another day the Indian batsmen would put the same attack to the sword in slightly different conditions.

Losing a Test chasing 208 runs can demoralise the best of teams and it will surely hurt the World Number One team. But looking at India’s record at the venues India will be playing the remaining two Tests, at SuperSport Park at the Centurion, starting Saturday, and then at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, they need not be disheartened even if the pitches there are known to be quick with bounce.

India played only one Test at the Centurion — on the 2010-11 tour — and lost it by an innings after being put in to bat and bowled out for 136 in the first innings, though they scored 459 in the second knock thanks to Sachin Tendulkar’s century (111) and healthy contributions from Gautam Gambhir (80), Virendra Sehwag (63) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (90).

At Wanderers India have an unbeaten record, winning in 2010-11 to share the series 1-1, and drawing the other three, including a bizarre finish to a Test which the South Africans should have won, but they chose to settle for a draw, eighth-wicket pair Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn not wanting to take chances, even when they needed eight runs chasing 458.

It only proves that there is still plenty of cricket to be played. Under the circumstances, who should be India’s horses for the two courses? The options for the second Test are limited and, in fact, little if the team management goes by normal cricket sense instead of panicking after the loss at Newlands.

The media waited for the Test to end to ask why Ajinkya Rahane and Lokesh Rahul were not played and Kohli was quick to respond, both Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan were included on current form. So, can they be dropped now after failing in one Test in which the best of batsmen on both sides could not get going?

Don’t forget the year 2017 belonged to both Kohli and Rohit, who had shone across the formats.

If a case is made out for Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit’s camp will ask how can you drop a guy who scored 82, 51 not out, 102 not out, 65 and 50 not out in his last five Test innings, at an average of 175? If the overseas record is taken into account, Murali Vijay has as good a record as any and see how he groped to find his off-stump.

Then there is a suggestion of players playing their natural game. Dhawan tried doing it and did not succeed. Rohit was cautious but he looked good in till he got out without notice. We can‘t also be asking the present lot to bat like Sehwag or V.V.S. Laxman, if not Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid.

Imagine the pressure on Rahul and Rahane if they are pitchforked into the side. You can’t be changing and chopping players after every individual failure and a Test loss.