South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj was yet to open his account when Bhuvneshwar Kumar produced the perfect edge off his bat and Shikhar Dhawan floored a sitter at third slip. The ball seemed perfectly in line to enter skipper Virat Kohli’s waiting palms when Dhawan grabbed at the ball and ended up flooring it. Maharaj went on to score 35 as the last four South African wickets added 84 crucial runs on a wicket that has seen batsmen struggle. While South Africa’s score read 12/3 at one stage, India’s reads 28/3.
And it was only ironical that Bhuvneshwar rued giving away 25-30 runs extra when he spoke at the press conference. "If we want to be hard on ourselves, then yes we did give away a few too many runs to South Africa. I think they scored 25-30-odd extra runs. In every hour of play, there were 2-3 overs, where we gave away easy boundaries. That is an area we can improve on," Bhuvneshwar said at the end of the day's play.
Yes, South Africa too were under the hammer when a genius names AB de Villiers saved them the blushes and came up with a perfect counter-attack. So much so that it got the South African batting coach Dale Benkenstein to say: "At 12/3, it was not the best feeling as a batting coach. I was thinking of taking an Uber and leaving for the hotel because I didn't know how we were going to score runs on this wicket. The class and genius of AB and the tenacity of our captain (Faf du Plessis) changed the momentum of the game, or rather that innings (from AB). That one over (when de Villiers score 17 runs off Bhuvneshwar) was a game-changer. It was definitely the genius of AB. You cannot tell him how to bat as a coach. It made the bowlers worry about their lengths and that partnership of 100 runs got us back in the game. It brought belief back in the change room," he said.
Now the big question that every Indian wants to know is that whether or not the other equally talented and elegant batsmen stand up and make it count on the second day of the first Test? The script has been tailor-made for Rohit Sharma to not just finally cement his place in the Test team, but also silence all those who have questioned the team management’s decision to pick him over the otherwise dependable Ajinkya Rahane. But will he rise to the occasion? Can he do an ABD on the hosts bowlers?
Such was his scoring rate that it even got the Indian team worried, as revealed by Bhuvneshwar later during the presser. “During the break also, we were talking about bringing the run-rate down because in Test cricket four runs per over is a lot. This is something we want to improve when we bowl in the second innings,” he said.
But more than ABD and his power-packed performance, it was the extra runs that India gave away to the Proteas lower-order that calls for immediate addressing. With the chips down at 142/5, India should have gone for the kill, but instead, they kept giving the home team easy runs.
This once again brings us to the fielding. While Bhuvneshwar did put up a brave face, disappointment was writ large on his face. “Catches do win you matches and we want to improve this area. The slip cordon has held some great catches in the past so they will miss one or two. We do not go to bowl thinking they will not hold catches. We trust the slip cordon to hold their catches," he said.
One sees hours of fielding training under fielding coach R Sridhar every time the team comes out on practice day. But why exactly are so many catches being dropped? The answer is the positioning of the arms as the likes of Dhawan and Kohli are more than happy to have the hands on their knees when the ball is being delivered rather than waiting with open arms and low eye-line to gobble anything that comes their way. Sridhar needs to address this.
But first, it will be on Rohit and Cheteshwar Pujara to help the Indians fight back with their backs against the wall. Rohit could not have asked for a calmer partner to bail the team out, but can he be India’s ABD? Only time will tell on the second day at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town.
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First Published: January 6, 2018, 9:30 AM IST