Sunil Gavaskar in Durban 24 December 2013 - 11:01pm IST
‘Pujara is ice to Virat’s fire’
Sunil Gavaskar’s review of Team India’s performance in Johannesburg
The Johannesburg match brought out the real beauty of Test cricket. It showed us that the fortunes can fluctuate in a matter of one over, one accurate throw to the stumps, one wicket. That there doesn’t need to be a loser for there to be a winner. That sometimes, the most gripping of contests can also end without a result.
From India’s perspective, they can be very proud of the way they performed throughout the five days. MS Dhoni’s young team showed remarkable fight, taking on the world’s No. 1 Test team.
“Indian batsmen are inept in playing fast bowling, particularly in dealing with the bouncer”.
It’s time this perception is put to rest for good. The Indians have never been scared of facing fast bowling.
The young Indian batting lineup scored 701 runs in the first Test against the attack comprising Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Jaques Kallis. But the false notion of their vulnerability against the quickies will unfortunately remain because it suits some to always make Indian cricket look bad.
The way the Indian batsmen handled the short ball well forced South Africa to change their bowling tactics. The Proteas pacers got carried away by what they saw in the ODIs and bowled short early on. But the Test wicket was not as quick as those in the one-dayers and also, there’s a vast difference between how the white and the red ball behaves.
What was particularly impressive was how well the Indian batsmen left the balls outside off-stump. Everyone right from Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara Ajinkya Rahane and even MS Dhoni showed tremendous patience to leave the ball and that was the hallmark of India’s batting in the first Test.
It was so pleasing to hear Virat say that he had been visualizing scoring a Test century in South Africa for months. It is wonderful news that a batsman as young, vibrant and aggressive as Virat cares so much about his performance in Test cricket. Kudos to him. He might have missed out on scoring two centuries in a Test but he has a long career ahead of him and if he maintains this attitude and hunger, he will score tons of runs and many centuries.
Cheteshwar Pujara is another impressive young man. He brings a calming effect with the way he bats and conducts himself. Pujara and Virat form a perfect No. 3 and 4 combination for India – Pujara is ice to Virat’s fire. The best thing is that the two enjoy each other’s company in the middle.
What is very admirable about Pujara is that he doesn’t get satisfied after getting to the three-figure mark. There are batsmen who score hundreds and those who score big hundreds. Pujara belongs to the latter category. It is the big centuries that are remembered for a long time and can change the course of the game in your team’s favour.
Full marks to the Indian fast bowlers for the way they bowled right through the Test, especially so on the fifth day. it wasn’t easy to bowl – it was very hot, the pressure was on them to pick wickets and their spells were often a couple of overs longer than what is ideal for pacers. It was incredible how all the Indian pacers responded to the situation. They bowled their hearts out, never went flat and never complained.
There will always be difference between the way the South African and Indian pacers bowl. The South Africans are quick through the air and bowl short of a good length so it is difficult for them get the swing going. The ideal speed to get movement in the air and off the seam is around 135-137, which is the pace the Indians bowls at.
Zaheer Khan’s has been a remarkable comeback. His desire to return to playing Test cricket and attaining peak fitness is commendable. He has now entered the 300-wckets club and he thoroughly deserves it. His presence augurs well for Indian Cricket given what a fantastic mentor he has been to the young Indian pacers.
It was important for Ishant Sharma to bowl the right length for him to make the most of his height, and he was spot on in this Test. He bowled beautifully and it’s good to see him live up to his potential. Ishant bowling well is a very crucial factor for India in this and the future series.
While the pacers were the heroes, R Ashwin went wicketless. This wasn’t a pitch where he would get purchase. He was given the task of keeping one end tied up as the faster bowlers take a breather and he did that perfectly. In the 36 overs he bowled in the second innings, his economy rate was 2.30.
There were many turning points that skewed the match in India’s favour – Virat’s century in the first innings, the way fast bowlers made a comeback (Ishant dismissing Amla and Kallis in one over) and the partnership between Pujara and Virat.
However, from the fifth day’s perspective, Rahane’s direct-hit to run Faf du Plessis out was the key moment. Faf was batting really well and threatened to take the match away from India.
A slight concern for India though, lies in the slip cordon. How the fielders stand in the slips is a concern. They have tended to stand too deep to lap up any low catches that come their way. Also, at times we’ve seen the distance between them is too narrow and they end up encroaching each other’s territory. That needs to be fixed.
Dhoni was very calm on the fifth day amid all the hurly burly. The first positive step from Dhoni was electing to bat first after winning the toss. It was a brave move given India had struggled at Wanderers in the ODI. That decision to bat first exuded the confidence the Indian captain has in his batsmen.
While there was little to separate the two captains, Graeme Smith’s decision to not press for a win with 16 runs needed from three overs was baffling to say the least. If it was India in that situation, Dhoni would have sent a message across from the dressing room asking the batsmen to go for a win.
The second Test
All India need to do in the second Test, at Durban, is continue to believe. They put up a fine performance at the Wanderers and now it’s just about repeating it.
They will probably stick with the combination of three pacers and a spinner for the Durban Test too and if at all a change is made, it could be Pragyan Ojha coming in for Ashwin.
(As told to Shirin Sadikot)