When the preferred route would have been the safety first approach of playing India’s Test deputy Ajinkya Rahane in the first game of the big series, the team management decided to show aggression and picked batsmen on the basis of current form. The ploy to play five bowlers (including all-rounder Hardik Pandya) meant that Rahane warmed the bench – a move that surprised all and sundry. What the duo of Kohli and Shastri also seemed to have forgotten was the lack of Test specialists in the line-up.
Apart from Cheteshwar Pujara – who too accepted that he got out to a bad shot – the rest are all flashy batsmen looking to up the ante. The only other defensive batsman who has scored runs all over the world on tough conditions – Rahane – watched on from the pavilion. The end result? All the top-order batsmen except for Rohit Sharma (trapped plumb by Kagiso Rabada) were out to flashy shots. In the end, the first six Indian batsmen managed just 81 runs while the next 4 made 128 runs.
If the last 4 South African batsmen were praised for scoring 84 runs, this was an exemplary performance from the Indian lower-order and tail. But then, you need contributions from the top as well when you wish to pick 20 wickets to win a Test match. The bowlers need something worthy to bowl at and can’t win you games after the scoreboard shows the first six batsmen scoring 1 (Murali Vijay), 16 (Shikhar Dhawan), 26 (Cheteshwar Pujara), 5 (skipper Kohli), 11 (Rohit Sharma) and 12 (R Ashwin).
At least Pujara was honest in confession when speaking to the media at the end of the day’s play that it was a poor shot from him. And he did give Hardik Pandya the credit he deserved. "He batted really well and showed a lot of character. He hasn't played many Test matches away from home but this is the kind of innings (he played) we expected it from him if he played in the playing XI. I think if someone who is very promising, he is batting well, bowling well, it makes a lot of difference to the team because when you have a very good all-rounder, it balances your team combination. I hope he continues with this," said Pujara.
"Everyone believed he (Pandya) can play such an innings and he played his shots and the environment in the dressing room became quite positive. Those runs were very important for the team and they kept us in the game. If he hadn't scored those runs, we would have been in trouble. So I think he kept us in the game and got us two wickets also at the end of day's play. So his performance was outstanding.
"It was a case of him playing his natural game. He is someone who likes to play his shots. That's how he would bat in any situation. This was the ideal situation for him to express himself and the moment he tries playing his shots he has been successful. We have seen that against Sri Lanka as well. When he started playing his shots he was a different player. That's how he should be playing and this is what makes him a different player from a top order batsman," Pujara said.
While the Indians have time and again harped on taking the attack to the opposition and playing mind games, the real aggression was shown by the soft spoken South Africa pacer Kagiso Rabada when he said: “We are slightly ahead and we are not going to give in. We need more hard work. Obviously, we were hoping for a bigger lead, but India are not going to roll over and we expected that. That is what they showed out there.”
The subtle sense of aggression oozes from the pacer’s statement. The game is heavily in the hosts’ favour with South Africa’s score reading 65/2 after 20 overs, a lead of 142 runs. Hopefully, the Indian bowlers will do a better job on the third day and wrap the South Africa innings quickly to ensure that the batsmen have as less a target as possible to start the series with a bang.
The game can still be won, but then, Kohli and Shastri must realise that for the bowlers to pick 20 wickets and win you a Test match, your batsmen also need to put runs on the board. Just shouting aggression will not get the team anywhere and Pandya won’t be saving the team the blushes every time. Hopefully the Indian batsmen are learning ahead of the second essay.
Ajinkya RahaneCape Town TestHardik Pandyakagiso rabadaRavi Shastrishikhar dhawanSouth Africa vs IndiaSouth Africa vs India 2018virat kohliVirat Kohlui
First Published: January 7, 2018, 9:13 AM IST