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Former India cricketer Chandu Borde, in a recent interview, offered an advice to Indian batsmen – leave the ball outside the stumps. It was precisely what went wrong with Virat Kohli-led Indian unit in the first Test against South Africa in Cape Town as they suffered a 72-run defeat. The conditions were not similar to what the visitors get back home and the batsmen were found wanting, especially outside the off-stump. Most got out poking at deliveries they should have shouldered arms to and the South African bowlers were on the money to make most of this habit.
Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn (in the first innings), Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada rattled the visitors with probing line and lengths. Movement in the air and off the deck exposed the likes of Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and captain Kohli.
Opening batsman Vijay, who is known for his patience up front, gave away his wicket in a similar fashion in both the innings as he touched a ball seaming outside off-stumps and got caught at slips, both times off Philander. Pujara left the ball beautifully in the first innings but first ball after the lunch break, he played a very loose shot and made the long walk back after a fighting effort in the first essay.
Now with India trailing 1-0 in the 3-match series, the onus will be on Indian batsmen, especially the top four, to not repeat the same mistakes. With India receiving flak for selection of Rohit Sharma over vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who has a better overseas average, it is likely he might have to sit out in Centurion to make way for his state-mate. The spotlight is also on Dhawan and many pundits have asked for KL Rahul’s inclusion for the second Test.
With Centurion expected to be no different than Newlands, the batsmen, from both teams, will have to do the hardwork of first surviving the shinning cherry and then scoring runs. Steyn’s absence comes as a huge blow but the other three seamers are in great form and are expected to make the ball talk when they take field.
It’s a simple plan which the Indian unit should look to follow. Leave the ball well but don’t get into a shell. On tracks with assistance for seamers, there will always be one ball with wicket written over it and the visitors need to ensure they do their bit before it comes their way. Something which AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis executed with perfection after the hosts were reduced to 12/3 in the first innings.
India’s bowling unit looks sorted with seamers doing the job and Ashwin providing able assistance as the fourth specialist bowler. In Hardik Pandya, Kohli has a bowler who can relieve the three quicks during long spells. It remains to be seen whether the management sticks to the same bowling unit or pick someone from the bench – Jadeja, Ishant or Umesh.