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Lungi brings down India

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India_batting_batsmen_flat_track_bullies_cricket_Test_home_awayThe second Test between India and South Africa looked pretty similar to the first; but the Indians lost by a bigger margin at Supersport Park. I had looked for some hope, digging into history, and put that hope down on paper and into a word-processing software before having it put up on this site.

I went against the general outlook I sensed among Indian cricket fans and thought that India would win in the end. I aired some vexation at what Sehwag said about Kohli and felt vindicated when the skipper scored that blemishless century in the first innings.

I thought Ashwin and Vijay would mark their Pongal with match-winning bowling and batting performances respectively. It seemed probable when the Proteas started batting in their second innings and Ashwin was bowling from one end with Kohli making bowling changes at the other – Shami, Bumrah and Ishant Sharma.

It is wrong, of course, to expect a lot from anyone; and a lot was expected from Ashwin in the second innings, one must confess. Now, Ashwin has delivered nine times out of ten. But the Proteas had done their homework and they knew that countering Ashwin and not yielding to him would be equivalent to getting 50% of the job done.

It was great to see a bowling attack with three coloured South African quicks (two of whom are black) put pressure on the Indians – it reminded one of the West Indian pace battery of yesteryear. Morkel bagged four in the first innings, but Rabada and Lungi took over from the more seasoned duo in the second innings….and the latter established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. Steyn will not be missed, I am certain.

Rahul for Dhawan did not click. Patel for Saha did not work. I am not implying that Dhawan and Saha could have won the match for India. VVS Laxman had wondered why Bhuvi was not included in the Test side after his wonderful all-round performance in Cape Town. He was wondering if he ‘was missing something’. I also wondered likewise. Would Bhuvi have made a difference, instead of Ishant Sharma? Perhaps with the bat too, in the first innings and the second innings as well? Not sure.

And, there were some (on this site, no less!) who were of the view that Ajinkya Rahane would be key! After a poor domestic series, it may be difficult to feel that he would have stood up to the Proteas’ fearsome four. A lot was expected from Rohit Sharma, who had a good home series not very long ago (and I lavished praise of him in an article published earlier), but he did not deliver as he could have, when his potential is taken into consideration.

Now Dinesh Karthik has been summoned. Does he have it in him to bat patiently and grind his way to big Test match scores. He has opened the batting for India in Test cricket…in Cape Town over 10 years ago! He scored a half century with Wasim Jaffer for company – a partnership of 153 in the first innings and was then demoted down to the middle order in the second innings, when he remained unbeaten on 38. It could well have been two half centuries in the Test.

Now, ‘dus saal baad’, is he going to open again in the third Test? Rahul did not impress. Having Karthik up the order would mean we do not need Patel, and Rahane can come in? Perhaps Patel can still play in the side as a batsman, as we would then have a southpaw in the absence of Shikhar Dhawan.

Well, I do not intend to spin some more webs of hope here. A word of praise for AB de Villiers though: after the injury which he had to overcome, he has been a thorn in the flesh of Indians, on the pitch as a batsman and in the field as a fielder (especially in the Centurion Test match). Amla has to come into his own and he knows very well that he has to do that in the last Test.

Philander had commented before the series that the Indians may be good on home soil and would have risen up the Test rankings, but playing on South African soil would be a different cup of tea. Sehwag had asked Kohli to step down as captain if the second Test would be lost, and that was of course a bit too extreme and immature on his part.

Can Kohli and his men make it 1-2 at least? Nothing to lose…. but Lungi, Kagiso and Vernon will want to make it 3-0. And those who did not deliver in the first two Tests – Aiden Markram (well, 3 innings out of 4), Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla, can now play without any pressure and salvage something for themselves out of this series.

As far as the Indians are concerned, all of them, without exception, need to prove their mettle and support Kohli to the utmost. A thorough team-effort is what is needed. The batsmen need to score runs and the bowlers need to take wickets. No undue pressure should be exerted on the bowlers to stage rescue acts. Any runs scored by the quicks, Pandya and Ashwin must be looked upon as bonuses. Are there youngsters in India waiting in the wings? None must take his place on the side for granted. Shastri and Bangar must drill this into their minds.

The Test series is lost now. But a lot more cricket is still to come. There will surely be opportunities for India to strike back.

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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