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Indian batsmen let slip the fi rst Test after taking 20 wiskets

India missed a great opportunity in letting the First Test at Cape Town slip out of their hands. Perhaps, they may not get a better shot at a win in this Test series than the chance it had at Newlands. While Newlands was supposed to be batsmen friendly the pace and bounce due to drought conditions ensured the pitch behaving like any other South African grounds. Now India faces the prospect of taking on South Africa on surfaces with even more pace, bounce and movement at the Centurion and the Wanderers. However India can hold their head high when the pace bowlers took 18 of the 20 wickets and exerted enough pressure on the South African batsmen who were used to playing in those pace friendly wickets. Given the strength of its pace attack and the cracks in the South African batting, India will go with a positive frame of mind in the second Test at Centurion.

India got off a fabulous start when the host got the worst of the batting conditions in the Test. The South Africans misread the pitch as they expected the surface to become drier and faster as the match progresses, which did not happen. Kumar had the top order in no man’s land with considerable lateral movement. However they let slip a great opportunity from 3 wickets down for 12 runs to a respectable 286 all out. On that wicket with rain expected this total is more like 400 plus. There were culprits on the field, in particular Shikhar Dhawan and players like AB diVilliers and Quinton de Kock will punish you for the mistakes. India should have nailed the Test but Virat Kohli and his men had lost ground on the first day itself when, after making serious inroads, they allowed the South African tail to wag, Vernon Philander (23), Keshav Maharaj (35), Kagiso Rabada (26), Dale Steyn (16) added precious runs.

Hardik Pandya came up with a brave innings of 93 to keep India in the hunt on day two, but, disappointingly, no other Indian batsman crossed 40 in the Test. The conditions were such that the batsmen were required to play close to the body, leave deliveries and drive in the ‘V’. It was a pitch that demanded the change in the batsmen technique, if they have one but none could adapt to the demands of the conditions. Someone like Rohit Sharma, so destructive on flat tracks back home, will find life a lot harder in those conditions but that is where a good batsman becomes great by changing his style. Kohli always has this problem overseas where he takes a huge gamble in team selection for the first Test and miserably fails. It was a case of Karn Sharma instead of Ashwin in the first Test at Adelaide in 2014 which backfired spectacularly. Ajinkya Rahane must to be brought back for the next Test.

However playing Jaspirt Bumrah was a brave move and the lanky seamer justified the selection. Although he improved his line and length as the game progressed he could have been better advised by the bowling coach Bharat Arun in the first innings. Bumrah can be lethal in these conditions with his ability to extract bounce from a length which unfortunately did not happen when required in the first inning. Ashwin was under bowled in the first innings and Kohli’s confidence in Ashwin is melting faster than the icebergs in Antarctica. India conceding a lead of 77 runs was on the back foot and finished Day 2 with an overall lead of 137 runs still 8 wickets to take and looking at chasing a total of 300 plus to win the game. The Indians would have struggled to have a good dinner and sleep that night.

The agony continued on the third day with a whole day washed out. However this is where the Indian Gods came to their rescue thanks to the billion prayers. With all the sweating under the covers there was moisture on the surface and again there was considerable assistance for the Indian pacemen. The Indian pace bowlers just took 41.2 overs to brush aside a powerful South African batting in their own backyard. Nobody had answers to the Indian awesome foursome pace attack with some sharp catching.

What was almost a written off Test for India became lively again and they just need to score 208 runs with enough time around but on a tricky wicket in which they already played the first innings.

There were was further assistance to India as South Africa was without the injured Steyn and they had to see through the first 40 overs with minimum damage and then test the Steyn-less three-man South African pace attack, which would have been tiring by then, in their third and fourth spells. Unfortunately the batsmen committed the same mistakes – not adapting to the conditions.

Of course, Philander was outstanding and will be as he was playing his 23rd Test at home having captured 107 wickets at a splendid average of 18. This is like Ashwin in India on a turning track where no batsmen have hope. Again for the nth time the lack of feet movement, both in defence and offence, and the lack of patience saw the Indians collapsing when in pursuit of an attainable target of 208.

The Indians have a job on their hands in the remaining two Tests. The batsmen are under scrutiny. Obviously Indian fans live on hope and the reaction will be “When they come here, they get thrashed because they can’t play spin. When we go there we get thrashed because we can’t play fast bowling. That’s life.”

Both Kohli and Shastri kept saying that this Indian team is different and will learn very quickly. They had a wonderful winning stretch and if they cannot turn things around we can expect the whole of 2018 to be sombre with tours of England and Australia. India first need to look at its team selection. Can India afford to play both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma in the same Test?

The technique required from both to play on these surfaces with world class pace bowling is sadly missing. On a track with seam and bounce, even India’s best leavers of the ball - Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara - played at more deliveries than they should have.

The current crop is more than capable of adjusting to the demands of the pitch so acclimatisation in these days needs to be taken for granted. Rohit Sharma can be a man in form at home was played instead of the more reliable player with a better record abroad, Ajinkya Rahane. Dhawan, a lefthander, began with an advantage, but his style of play is always a gamble and Kohli should know that gamble and surprise doesn’t work with great teams.

India did really well in one part of the equation – taking 20 wickets. Kohli summed it up well. "Taking 20 wickets to win a Test match is the priority. But if your batsmen don't bat well, then it doesn't matter. If you are not getting close to their total, it doesn’t matter if you have taken 20 wickets or not. We needed to bat better than what we did."

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