The first Test in Mohali underlined just how
desperate India were to appease their huge fan base after suffering humiliating
back-to-back series losses in the game’s shorter formats.
The track prepared for the opening Test between the
two cricketing giants took India back years in cricketing terms.
It was the way they played years ago before the advent of the IPL and bouncier
pitches. The contest ended within three days and would have had television
bosses on their knees in front of advertisers, who demand more bang for their
India won the toss which was important, but the
Proteas certainly had their chances during the course of the 251 overs and
never grasped them firmly enough. Ultimately, the visitors' downfall was
because they failed to recognise and take advantage of the big moments.
Captain Hashim Amla would have been pleased with his
bowlers, who dealt with the foreign conditions well and ensured India scored
just over 200 runs in the first innings. At one stage, the hosts threatened to
score more than the aforementioned total, but through effective captaincy from
Amla and pressure bowling by seam and spin alike, the Indians capitulated.
However, South Africa’s inability to get a lead on
the first innings immediately meant India were afforded their first “get out of
jail free” card. Being bowled out cheaply in the first innings cost the Proteas
the match. What saddened me was that South Africa’s batsmen were unable to
counter spin even though they knew it was would come to the fore at some stage during
the series. Of concern heading into the second Test - only AB de Villiers, who
borders on genius, appeared capable of dealing with the pressure of spin from
By their own admission, South Africa’s performance
with the bat in the fourth innings was pitiful to say the least. Some suggest
that if De Villiers doesn’t score runs, the Proteas will really be in dire
straits. It’s probably true to a point because the 31-year-old right-hander is
in the form of his life and boasts the ability to change a match in a short
space of time.
The key component of being able to rotate the strike
off low and slow turning pitches is to have a go-to shot that you know will get
you down the other end. All the best players of spin bowling did. Jonty Rhodes
and Sachin Tendulkar had the sweep shot. Brian Lara was a master at pushing
into the gap on the offside, while Ricky Ponting used his feet. If you learn
your trade on turning pitches, of course it comes naturally and you have innate
confidence in your go-to shot. It can be played almost at will, which makes it
very difficult for a spinner.
A critical aspect to the
success of any spinner comes down to creating pressure on a batsman by not
letting him off strike, especially when they are a few men around the bat.
To counter said tactic,
batsmen have to be able to rotate the strike regularly and release the mental
pressure. Batsmen start to hear voices after they knock back too many
deliveries without scoring and that happens to the best of the best. Some just
take longer to get there.
As a batsman, when you simply aren’t in possession
of a shot within your arsenal to get you down to the other end of the track,
the pressure builds like an inferno and eventually you play a shot out of hope
rather than skill. And more often than not it results in a disaster.
Heading into the second Test starting on Saturday, Russell
Domingo will hopefully have dissected the batting performances and worked tirelessly
on identifying the shortcomings.
However, reality is that things don’t change
overnight and the best case scenario for South Africa is that the Bangalore
surface isn’t doctored to the same extent as the Mohali pitch.
Moreover, Domingo will hope that Morné Morkel and
Dale Steyn have recovered on the bowling front and JP Duminy is back to full fitness
to bolster the batting line-up. Duminy’s spin bowling will free up a spot to
play a stronger batsman, but Domingo’s single biggest challenge will be to somehow
fit in another genuine top order batsman. The one way he can do so is to let De
Villiers keep wicket, but that would fly in the face of what has gone before.
Mind you, this Test match is a do-or-die fixture. If
the Proteas lose, the series cannot be won. However, if the visitors prevail, all
the pressure will be transferred to the home side.
Former South Africa international Pat
Symcox played 20 Tests, took 37 wickets and scored 741 runs. He is a
self-proclaimed cricket fanatic, struggling golfer and addicted writer.
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