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Opinion: What ails Indian Cricket Team? Pace bowling

After 29 overs, India's score stands at 82/7 at tea, and they still need 126 more runs to win the first Test. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Bengaluru, Karnataka, India Jan 09, 2018, 06.18 AM (IST) Written By: Pankaj Agrawal

When the third day of Cape Town Test was called off on 7th January due to rain, my Cricket freak cousin called me and told: “I have a feeling that when game resumes on fourth day, Indian pacers can wrap up South African quickly”. His prediction was based on favourable conditions for pacers post drizzle and little tendency of imploding which South Africans carry. There seemed a merit in his views and we opined that in case Indians restrict South Africa within 200, India stands a chance.


One hour after the commencement of game on the fourth day of the Cape Town Test, it looked that things were actually going the way my cousin predicted.  South African collapsed even quicker than expectations. From 52 for no loss, they were bundled out for 130. It was a huge effort by Indians.


India’s victory at Kolkata 2001 and Adelaide 2003 started playing in my mind when South African batting line-up was collapsing in second innings.  When India started chasing 209, the match was heavily tilted toward India. The absence of Dale Steyn added to the woes of South Africa.  When the score was 30 for no loss, it looked that this special team of Virat Kohli will continue the winning streak. 


But then they collapsed. 


Instead of Kolkata 2001 and Adelaide 2003, in the end, it turned out to be an imitation of Bridgetown 1997, when India chasing 120 collapsed at 81 in fourth innings.


Indians per se had their moments in the Test, which was completed in less than three days (omitting the washed out day) but in the end better team won.


This was a sort of reality check for number one Test side in ICC ranking and for a team who has been on a roll for quite some time now.  It’s simple - You piled up runs in sub-continent but what if situation upped the ante; you collapse.


Indians need to fix problems very soon. Things started going wrong right from the beginning. Ravinder Jadeja ruled out for the Test, which was a blow considering the number of right-handed batsmen in the South African line-up. Remember his 6 wickets haul at Durban in 2013. 


The real problem, however, was the selection of playing eleven out of the available lot. Leaving KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane on the bench and picking Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma is not at all convincing. Rahane’s recent failures notwithstanding, you cannot take a batsman lightly who has Test hundreds at Lords and Melbourne Cricket Ground under his belt.  Shikhar and Rohit have nothing to boast about their overseas Test credentials, and if you are playing with five batsmen only then you need to pick the five with the best records. At the top of it, Dhawan’s abysmal slip catching has put a serious question mark on his Test credentials.


Vijay’s tentativeness at the top of the order was baffling and made things worse. He as such is a Test opener with solid temperament but looked tentative at Cape Town.


Indians let South African off the hook from the pressure situation. During the first session when South Africa was 12 for 3, India was on top but then a deluge of runs by South Africa turned the situation. 

The bottom line is that Indians need to fix glitches in the selection of playing eleven and the difficulties of its batsman in front of pace bowling.  The ODI/T-20 mindset will not work. As Gavaskar once explained, at Test level you need to respect bowlers for what they are and for sure once you are settled, you can dictate.


All is, however, not lost. 


India has its takeaway from the match in form of all-round abilities of Hardik Pandya & Bhuvneshwar Kumar and spirited Test debut of Bumrah. Pandya’s blazing knock in the first knock and rock sold temperament of Bhuvi while batting in both innings is a clear silver lining. With Pandya, Ashwin, Saha and Bhuvi down the order, five batsmen strategy also looks fine.  


Moreover, it is not always easy to play a Test outside the subcontinent without a warm-up match and sufficient match practise. But course correction needs to be quick as this is a Three Test series and comeback has to be immediate.


Virat Kohli and boys need not have their shoulders down though.  Winning and losing is part of the game; what really matters is that how you compete and team India can draw consolation out the fact that that they ended up better than expectations from a situation when they were  7 down at 92 in first innings in reply of 286 but they missed the final punch.


With bowlers doing their job well, a lot would depend on how Kohli, Pujara and Vijay perform in the remaining two Test matches as these three have the proven credentials for such situation. 


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).