South African pacers draw first blood against India’s young brigade

Author : Garfield Robinson

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There’s a long way to go before the Indian batting line-up can be ready to face South Africa’s bowling

There is no need to speculate any more. We have some evidence now of the difficulties India’s new batting unit will face in South Africa. And while it is both unfair and unwise to write them off after just one outing, this first viewing shows that they have quite a bit of work to do if they are to get through the tour unscathed.

Brimming with talent but short on experience in foreign conditions, the cream of India’s fledgling batting brigade now has first-hand experience of the difference between playing in subcontinent conditions and combatting high class pace bowling on surfaces that provide sharp bounce.

They had been warned. How the likes of Shikar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli faced up stood up against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and the legion of South Africa’s fast men would be the chief determining factor in the outcome of this eagerly awaited series. Now that the first skirmishes have taken place, India’s top order should totally appreciate the hardships that lie ahead.

Rohit Sharma, scorer of a million ODI runs this year, including an exquisite double-century, now knows what it like to face Dale Steyn at his rampaging best — bowling at high pace, extracting steep bounce and eliciting late away-movement. He faced 15 deliveries from Steyn before fortuitously getting a leading edge to the sixteenth for two runs in the cover area.

Fanning the air again and again as delivery after delivery curved away from his searching blade, he could only manage three runs from the 19 deliveries from the world’s best new-ball bowler, none going in the direction in which he intended. The opener, normally one of the game’s more attractive stroke makers, was made to look like an ungainly plodder before being run-out for 18 scored from all of 43 balls.

Managing to avoid Steyn, Dhawan seemed comfortable enough to unfurl three scorching boundaries through the off-side. Bounce was still a concern but he seemed content to leave those deliveries from Tsotsobe that hinted of danger. When Morkel was introduced, however, he unwisely decided to hook the tall pacer’s first ball, only to have it climb skywards off a top edge before safely nestling in the keeper’s glove.

Not even Kohli, widely acknowledged as Tendulkar’s heir, was immune to the perils provided by the conditions and the bowlers. A few strokes reminded us of his high class, but he was dropped on two when he gloved one that spat at him from Morkel, and fell for 31 without ever giving the impression, as he normally does, that he was in control the proceedings.

Apart from Dhoni, who made 65 from 71 deliveries, the resistance offered from the rest of the batting was inadequate as the hosts coasted to a massive 141-run victory. South Africa romping to 358 was bad enough, but the real troubling sign is the fact that India never gave a hint of reaching anywhere close to South Africa’s total, especially since racing past 300 has become commonplace for them recently.

The good thing about this defeat for India is that this is the first game of the tour and they can scarcely be defeated more badly. They must improve from here. The only real way to get accustomed to the South African surfaces is to play on them, and since it has been reported that Dhoni is concentrating mainly on the Test matches then it is good that the One Day Internationals are being played first. By the time the Tests come around, the Indian batsmen should be seasoned enough to put up a much better showing.

If the Test matches are really the priority of the visitors then they might consider handing an ODI or two to Cheshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay, who are both incumbents in the Test side. Practicing in the nets are good but batting in the middle, largely against the same bowlers they will face in the Tests, should provide a much more testing examination of their readiness for battle, especially since there were no warm-up games before the ODI series and only a two-game against an invitational XI before the first Test.

Something else that the Indians should probably ponder is the fact that Dale Steyn with the new ball presents considerably more hazard to right-handers than he does to left-handers. Rohit Sharma, recently in the form of his life, could hardly lay a bat on the South African spearhead for three consecutive overs. A tactic worth considering, for the team’s sake if not for Dhawan’s, is probably to have the left-hander facing more of Steyn’s thunderbolts.

None of this will matter, however, if India’s batsmen fail to come to terms with the high pace and steep bounce of the South African surfaces. The wickets may not all be as lively as the one they played on at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, but the grounds men at Durban and Centurion are likely to gift the visitors with the liveliest pitches they can muster.

After viewing the demolition of India’s batting in this first game, it’s the least they can do in service to their country.

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