Much before the ongoing India-South Africa series began, everyone knew this was going to be the toughest challenge Team India would be facing in a long time. And after the end of the first Test match at Cape Town last evening, we now know that this three-Test series is going to be one of the best contests the format has seen in a long time. In fact, the three days of action between India and South Africa at Newlands had much more drama, intrigue and thrill than the entire Ashes series between Australia and England that concluded yesterday.
South Africa came out trumps and beat India by 72 runs in the first Test. But despite their batting failures in the two innings, Team India fought well and throughout the Test had created chances for a genuine victory. Yes, a lot of tough questions would need to be addressed before they begin the second Test of the series, but the Indians can take heart from the fact that they fought hard. And the loss notwithstanding, they still have hopes of a fight back.
Why India can still turn it around
Though the loss will hurt, there were quite a few positives for India to take away from after the first Test. And if they rally around those positives and can mend a few loopholes, then they have it in them to turn things around.
The performance of the Indian seamers at Cape Town was laudable. In both the innings, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah bowled spiritedly and troubled the South African batsmen repeatedly. Bhuvaneshwar was outstanding in the first innings where he had four scalps and then, in the second innings, all the Indian seamers, including Hardik Pandya, bowled their heart out to shoot South Africa out for just 135 which gave their team a real chance for winning the Test. Unfortunately, the batsmen faltered at the crucial moments and could not deal with the combined firepower of Vernon Philander, Kasigo Rabada and Morne Morkel.
Apart from the three seam bowlers, India’s other shining light was all-rounder Hardik Pandya. Questions had been raised on his inclusion in the Test squad on the tour to South Africa as many still consider him as more suited to limited overs cricket. However, Pandya proved his naysayers wrong. When the chips were down and India was tottering at 92-7 in the first innings, Pandya played fire with fire and produced a blistering 93 off 95 balls against the best Test bowling attack in the world at present that gave India some chance of a fight. With the ball as well, he picked up 3 crucial wickets in the match and showed that he can be a reliable fourth seamer for India on the tour.
The way ahead for the series
From what we have seen in the first Test, India does have enough match-winners in their ranks to cope with the South African firepower in their own backyard. They just need to sort out a few issues with their team selection and the likes of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan would need to be a lot more responsible in their batting. Because the way some of the top-order batsmen were dismissed - playing rather rash strokes at the most inappropriate time - requires some thorough introspection.
Also, Ajinkya Rahane – India’s most successful batsman by a significant margin in overseas Test matches – needs to be drafted back into the side if India harbors a genuine hope for a fight back. Averaging close to 70 in South Africa, Rahane is the perfect batsman to have in these conditions and would bolster India’s batting unit significantly.
If the top-order batsmen can pull their socks up and give their in-form bowlers enough support, then India has it in them to spring a surprise on the mighty South African unit in the remaining two Tests.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).