Another Test match lost abroad due to failure of our much-hyped batting lineup.
Chasing 208 for an unlikely win, India's had another batting collapse and folded for 130, losing the Test by 72 runs inside three days on the fourth day, after third day's play washed out by rain. On the other hand, our bowlers aquitted themselves well and proved their mettle again. In fact, our much maligned pace attack had always delivered the goods overseas, it is our much vaunted batting which failed to live upto its reputation and failed to make matching contribution.
The failure of batting as a unit hurt the team badly and proved to be the difference between winning and losing the match.
In both the innings, our famed batsmen capitulated and felled like nine pins against Proteas bowlers who kept bowling on and outside off-stump, hardly giving anything to drive. In seaming condition and against relentless accurate bowling, technique along with patience and mental strength is tested in equal measure.
As great Sunny Gavaskar has pointed out, our batsmen are reaching for the deliveries instead of waiting for them to come to them. They are fishing and chasing wide deliveries outside off and perishing in doing so. In Test match cricket, you have to build your innings patiently and leave lot of balls outside off. But our batsmen try to play their shots from the word go without getting their eyes in. Not giving away your wicket, rotating the strike for singles so that bowler is unable to set into a rhythm against a particular batsman should have been the plan rather than each batsman trying to get out of trouble by playing shots. Case in point is Dhawan. In both the innings, he got out trying to play pull shots on balls which were not short enough to play the pull. Batters have to play as a unit to break the shackles created by Proteas bowlers who bowl as a unit relentlessly in the corridor of uncertainties, especially Philanderer who despite being not fast, generally bowls in the region of 125-130ks, is able to move the ball both ways. Our batsmen must not poke their bat, chase wide deliveries and must show discipline in leaving such balls alone. This will force South African bowlers to change their gameplan and will tire them, too.
Test cricket is all about grinding and wearing down your opponents by playing solid and patient game. You can't hit your way out of trouble in Test cricket, that's why it is called pinnacle of cricket where a player's technique, temperament, patience, mental strength all are tested thoroughly in equal measure.
On seaming pitches, where the ball is moving, leaving the balls on offside holds the key. Therefore, driving through the line is fraught with danger and can result in nick behind the stumps where keeper and slip cordon are waiting to pounce on any such opportunities.
Hope batsmen will learn from their mistakes and play fewer balls on offside and wait for the balls come to them, rather than reaching for them. Play straight, not across and eschew drive till they get their eyes in.
Some changes are needed in the team for the second Test beginning on 13th January at Centurion, known for its seaming tracks. So there won't be any respite for Indian batsmen.
Dhawan should make way for KL Rahul and Rahane must come in for Ashwin as Centurion won't be offering any assistance to spinner hence playing a spinner will be a luxury. Moreover, inclusion of Rahane will strengthen our beleaguered batting; of the current lot, Rahane has the best Test average overseas. Rohit Sharma should be persisted with, as he has the talent and gift of timing. He has it in him to make minor technical adjustments required to score runs under seaming condition on seaming pitches.
I suspect, next Test will also be over within 3-4 days and it is up to our batsmen to put up a competitive total on board to complement bowlers' efforts.
Good luck Team India for rest of the series!
January 9, 2018