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Reflections on India's 1st Test

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India_South_Africa_Test_cricketIndia capitulated to sheer pace and bounce near the Cape of Good Hope. For a moment, this landmark made yours sincerely think that Kohli and comrades would script a great victory. It seemed so, when the openers put on 30 in the second innings. I bet against all odds that India would win the match, with at least a couple of wickets in hand. But the heart ruled over the mind, as it often does, when you want your team to reign supreme in the end.

Well, as the Indians travel northward through South Africa for the second Test that begins on Lohri, a day before Pongal/Makar Sankranti, they would do well to take some of the ‘Good Hope’ which Vasco da Gama took with him en voyage to Kerala long ago.

There is something which warms the heart though. Pandya, Ashwin and Bhuvi. Scored runs and bagged wickets. All-rounders proving their mettle, when the top order did not live up to its potential, which it has proven on the sub-continent against a weaker side last year.

This is South Africa and they are playing the Proteas – Morkel, Steyn, Philander and Rabada. No matter how many runs de Villiers, du Plessis, de Kock and the others put on the board, these four will give their sweat and blood to win matches for their side.

 

But hope springs eternal in the human heart. Indians are known to begin series badly. They did so against the Lankans too on Indian soil, if you recall. A Test they could have won but did not. But then, they learnt from their mistakes, shed any complacency and went on a winning streak.

 

There is hope in history, just as one could look back to hope that history will not be rewritten. In 2006, when India toured South Africa under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy, they began on a winning note at the Wanderers.

The score-line: India 249; South Africa 84; India 236 and South Africa 278. The now-notorious Sreesanth bagged 8 wickets and the Man of the Match award. When you think of this, you feel sad for him on the one hand and angrier at him on the other.

The Proteas could not take this defeat lying down….they came back all guns blazing and decimated the Indians in the next two Tests – the second one at Durban beginning on Boxing Day, and the third one at the Newlands in Cape Town.

In the Durban Test, Makhaya Ntini did a Sreesanth: eight wickets and Man of the Match. In the third Test, India began superbly, posting 400+ and gaining a lead, but then messed up in the second innings and ended up yielding runs to South Africa to lose the match, riding on a Smith century.

 

In 2018, India began with Cape Town and will end at the Wanderers, stopping at Centurion in between. We won the first and went down in the next two in 2006. In the tour of 2010-11, we lost the first and came back into the series by winning the second one at Durban, with VVS doing what one may have expected Pujara to do at Cape Town on the 8th of January 2018 – stick on and score with patience.

 

India has thus lost a series after winning the first Test and also stormed back into the series after having lost the first one. There is nothing to lament. This was the Law of Averages in action….and the 1-2 loss in 2006 for India can very well be converted to a 1-2 loss for the Proteas this year.

The top order is likely to get its game in order from the 2nd Test onwards. Each one of them knows that he cannot take his place on the side for granted. Perhaps there may be some changes in the composition in the second Test; we never know. What is really heartening is the fact that two fast bowlers and a spinner, all-rounders in their own right, stood up and delivered their best.

Pujara is a tough cookie and Kohli does not take things lying down. Both have it in them to settle scores by scoring big after a dip or a couple of dips. One may recall that Rahane batted well when India toured South Africa earlier. He was badly out of form on home soil late last year. But perhaps he has it in him to perform better overseas?

South Africa will be without Steyn for the remainder of the series. But, as we saw in Cape Town, that did not seem to bother them…Philander and Rabada are a dangerous twosome; even if Morkel would not deliver. The pitches up in the Veldt are certainly different from the ones down along the coast. Having been awakened from whatever stupor they might have been in, the Indians will have to do some serious stock-taking before the auspicious day this weekend.

Each one of the Indians, hopefully, a month down the line, may be able to quote William Henley, from the poem Invictus which kept Nelson Mandela’s hopes alive in the Robben Island prison (incidentally not far from Newlands in Cape Town) – ‘I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.’

Pongal is an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ festival for the Tamilians. Ashwin may wish to efface Cape Town from his memory and start afresh in Centurion….and one hopes that he gets to bowl more overs there.

Though Newlands aided the quicks and Bumrah, Shami and Bhuvi were resourceful; the other two matches may be different cups of tea….and just as the Indians may have to be adept at negotiating Maharaj, Ashwin may get a chance to prove to his critics that he is as good on foreign soil as he is on the slow turning tracks in India.

 

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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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