Things India need to work on to avoid whitewash
By Krunal Gandhi, MyCricketHighlights Cricket Writer
Many thought this was the best chance for India to somewhat lessen their blemish record on the South African soil and win their first-ever Test series in the African nation. But all that hopes have been dashed in just 8 playing days. South Africa have once again proved why they are such a strong force at home as they defeated the No. 1 Test side, by considerable margins, in both the matches.
In both those games, India had a chance to chase down the total, but the pace-bowling attack of the Proteas proved to be too hot to handle for the visitors. It was also the lacklustre batting display, especially in the Centurion Test, which cost them the series and now they are on the verge of suffering a possible whitewash.
If India need to avoid that embarrassment, they will need to do a few things right at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. That pitch is supposed to be the most lively – yes, more lively than the Cape Town one – that the teams will come across and one might even sense that South Africa will go with five pacers in that match. This will prove to be a real challenge for the Indian batsmen, who have found it difficult to handle the Proteas’ bowlers even on a flat Centurion wicket.
The batting has been a real problem for the Indians, which can be identified from the fact that in three out of the four innings, they have lost 7 wickets for less than 100 runs on the board. Yes, they are up against arguably the best fast-bowling attack in the world, but the manner in which they got out at Centurion was simply not acceptable. “Too many soft dismissals” as the captain himself pointed out. After the first Test, Kohli was quite vocal about his batsmen failing to put up runs on the board. Well, nothing much changed in the second Test as well. If it wasn’t for Kohli’s 153 in the first innings, they might have even folded for less than 200 runs. The key to India’s success will be the contribution from the top-five. They will need to build strong partnerships and help their team post a competitive total.
Another thing that has been hurting India for quite some time is their poor fielding. Dropping catches and also misjudging them has cost India quite a bit, and it has also been a major difference between the two sides alongside batting and bowling. Catches win matches and India would like to hold on to even the half-chances, just like South Africa did at Centurion.
Out of the three aspects of the game, India’s bowling has fared far better, but they too have been inconsistent. After managing to put the opposition under pressure, the bowlers have not been able to sustain that pressure for long periods of time. This allowed the Proteas to build useful partnerships every now and then and get out of the jail.
In the first innings of Cape Town Test, the hosts were reeling at 12 for 3 and then were allowed to form a 114-run partnership. There was a similar situation in the second innings at Centurion, where they were down 3 for 2 and were then able to stitch a 141-run partnership.
In both the above-mentioned partnerships, there was one common factor and that was AB de Villiers. The 33 yr. old has already proved to be a game-changer in both the Tests and has rung warning bells for the Indians by confessing that he is in the best form of his life. It’ll be important for the visitors to find a way to get ABD back in the pavilion as soon as possible, or else he’ll continue to take games away from them.
Last but not least is the ‘Selection’ thing. In both the matches, India have stunned everyone by making selections that have raised eyebrows. Particularly in the second Test, where they dropped Bhuvneshwar Kumar. I mean how can you left a player out, who was your best bowler and had also made valuable contributions with the bat. It was shocking, to say the least. Most experts said that Rahane should have played in the second Test, but even he was left out as the Indian team management decided to give Rohit another chance. Agree that Rahane was not in form, but there is something called as technique and run-scoring ability in the foreign conditions, which he definitely has.
Now, Rohit had made tons of runs in the last series India played, but they all came in sub-continental conditions against a not-so-strong Sri Lankan bowling attack. You can’t expect Rohit, who has a mediocre average of 23.90 outside Asia, to repeat the same feat against South Africa in completely different conditions against a far superior bowling attack. His technique was found wanting against the South African pacers, who were neatly able to exploit his weakness against the incoming ball.
On the other hand, Rahane has scored runs everywhere around the world at a staggering average. In fact, his average outside Asia (54.66) is the best among the Indian batsmen – yes, even better than Kohli (46.30). They say numbers don’t lie and Rahane’s numbers speak volumes about his tenacity with the bat in these conditions. India certainly need to include him in the playing XI for their own good.
It’s not going to be easy for India to avoid the whitewash, but if they play to their strengths – which they haven’t so far – then they might spring a surprise at Johannesburg.