Indian home season got off to a perfect start as Virat lead Indian team thumped South Africa team by 203 runs to win the 1st test match of Freedom series in Visakhapatnam.
The Margin of defeat actually does not reflect the game played across 5 days, to be honest. This South African team gave a good fight they did show grit & resistance than many expected. But they were simply outplayed by a better team who are too good at home conditions. Many would agree to the fact that there are not many teams around the world that could come to Indian soil & push the home team on the backfoot in test cricket then let alone speak about winning a test match or the series. The last 6 years home record speaks for itself.
But having said that, as an unbiased cricket fan I must admit that on a few occasions in the last 6 years Indian team were provided tailor-made tracks in home games. Couple glaring examples would be the entire test series in 2015 against South Africa which I believe literally broke the Proteas confidence & moral. They came with a record of not having not lost an away series in 6 or 7 years if I am right and was made to face a near washout if not for the Bangalore rain-curtailed game with series ending 3-0 in the favor of Indian team. Another example was the first two-game of the 2017 series against Australia. In the first game, the Indian team got embarrassed in Pune with a record defeat but were able to undo the mistake very next game in Bangalore. The one factor that was common on both above said examples were, the tracks which were offered were rank turners or even can be called as minefields. The ball started to turn from day 1, so it was not a fair contest between bad & ball also it must be agreed that there was too much of a home advantage being exerted.
However, the track offered on Visakhapatnam for this series opener was nothing as compared to those rank turners. In fact, it had so many runs on offer & even on day 5 it was not turning square. It must be said this was a level playing field for both the teams and proper competition between bat & ball. But how much does the toss have an effect on the outcome of the game? Something to debate for but it has been the case ever since international cricket was played. Had South Africa won the toss to bat first the result would have been different? Not sure but looking at the way things panned out it would have been a lot more of a tight contest on day 5.
If we analyze the game from a bird’s eye view the first 3 days were the best to bat as there was very little to no movement on offer for pacers and no big spin on offer. To add to it the slow nature of the track made sure it was in favor of the batsmen to pill up on the runs. But to do that the batters need to access the condition right and get set as the track did not have the pace to hit through the line. Both Indian openers did that to perfection as they laid the foundation with 300+ record-breaking partnership. Mayank showed how valuable domestic cricket is to play long innings as he converted his first century into a double hundred and with Rohit played a power pack 176. From there it was known to South Africa that they were going to play catch up game for the remaining of the test match. The Indian innings ended with Virat declaring at 502/7 with few overs left for the close of day 2. The South Africans had to play out the nervy few overs before the close of the day, as expected they crumbled with Indian team picking up 3 quick wickets by end of Day 2 with the Score not even reaching 50 on board. The star of the First two days was undoubtedly Mayank and Rohit.
But to everyone’s surprise, Day3 turned out to be anything but unexpected. South African team showed strong resilience & grit. As much as a surprise it was for many, the one aspect which did not surprise me was Dean Elgar’s innings. I have always admired his grit & temperament to score tough runs on challenging conditions. The record speaks for itself, he has carried his bat to end of the innings 2 or 3 times to date which is not an easy achievement by any measure for an opening batsman. The surprise package was Decock quickfire innings of 111, he looked out of sorts last time he played against India in their backyard. But we saw a totally different approach from him. His innings ensure the Proteas stayed in the game when many though with fall of Faf wicket it was all over for them. Decock & some valuable runs for tailenders go them to 430 odd runs on the board, which was a respectable position considering no team score 400+ batting second against India for the last 6 years I believe. Decock and Elgar stood out for the proteas but Ashwin picked up 7 wickets to show how valuable he is on such conditions. It was a pleasing moment to watch him come back into the team with a powerpack performance.
After a resounding fight on Day 3, the Proteas were expected to be fired up to test the Indian batters to make a match out of what they have got. As the day progressed it looked like Faf & his men had no strategy or Game plan to take then game to the Indian team. Rohit & Pujara started to stitch a brief partnership but a slow one there were few chances & nervy moments in the beginning but South Africans failed to capitalize on it. Once Pujara spent some time on the field he started to counter-attack, which was the first nail in the coffin for Proteas. Rohit then took the game away with his attacking game and also reached remarkable feet by scoring twin ton on his first Test as the opening batter. The first-ever opener to ever achieve such. His innings ensured India could take a lead of 400 runs well before the close of 4th day & even have the Proteas face few nervy overs. Overall by the end of the 4th day’s play, the South African team lost their most reliable batter in Elgar cheaply and had an uphill task of saving the test with an entire day 5 to playout which for sure daunted them. Rohit once again was the Star of the day also was equally supported by Pujara.
The first hour of Day 5 turned out to be the worst hour for the Protea. We could say an hour of Poor cricket & to face the best Second inning pacer in the world with the likes of Shami on a relatively variable bounce of the 5th-day track was the final nail in the coffin for them. South Africa’s middle-order flattered to deceive as they crumbled cheaply only for their tailenders to show some resistance and take the game past Lunch session. But the task much too much for Muthuswamy & Dan Peidt as they eventually folded post Lunch. The stars of this innings were Shami & Jadeja.
So the overall verdict for this game is that the Track on offer was a level playing surface it was anyone’s game till day 3. Though South Africa was on the back foot from the time India score 500 in 1st innings there were never out of the game by any stretch till the end of day 3 which is a positive sign for the Proteas camp. They might look back at the first session of Day 4 & Day 5 to think had we bowled & batted better could we have got something out of the game.
Take away & issues to fix for South Africa:
As much as it makes sense, their biggest issue is on both innings they could not even come near to get all 10 wickets. Their spinners looked out of sorts there was no penetration. They have a big decision to make, would they still trust to go with 3 spinners for next game though except for Maharaj other two looked like partime spinner or they are better of to bring the likes of Lungi nigidi as the 3rd pacer. Decock & Den Elgar were the shining light but the rest of their batting looked clueless at times. Overall they can be happy for putting up a fight but must accept the fact that they have a lot of shortcomings to address very quickly if they to turn around the series.
Take away & issues to fix for India: I
t was a complete performance by the Indian team. They were clinical with both bat & ball in hand. The biggest individual contributor takeaway for sure is Rohit Sharma’s avatar as Test opener, Ashwin’s come back into his own mold. At this point, no big fix is required, but a debate of Playing 5 bowlers might be a question in mind for Virat. Considering the solidity of our batting order & also it looks like for this series the tracks on offer won’t be rank turners, so the 4 bowlers strategy might cause some heavy workload for the bowlers. The team management might consider Kuldeep to come in for Vihari. It would be hard on Vihari but if there is going to be a change that is the only likely one to happen unless some injury or unavailability of a player pops up.