Latest Indian all-round sensation Hardik Pandya was the only bright spot in the debacle of the batting collapse in the first innings of the first Test at Cape Town in South Africa. While the top Indian batsmen struggled to even stay for long on a difficult pitch (which nevertheless offered runs to attacking batsmen) Pandya made merry.
Hardik’s 93 off 95 balls with 14 fours and a six was the only thing that saved India from being totally annihilated. India were an abysmal 92/7 at one stage and Hardik was the main reason that they finally reached 209 in reply to South Africa’s 286.
Incidentally Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who bagged four wickets during the South African innings, made 25 off 86, which almost matched the best Indian score by a specialist batsman, Cheteshwar Pujara, who made 26 off 92.
Generally Bhuvi-Hardik have been having a great Test. While Bhuvi picked up four wickets in the first innings, Hardik picked up the first two in the second to ensure that South Africa wouldn’t totally run away with the match.
Rohit over Rahane? Any cricket captain always tries to spring a few surprises and while some of them may succeed sometimes you are left scratching your head at others. Indian captain Virat Kohli has made a few of such decisions in his career.
When Karun Nair hit a sensational Test triple century at the end of 2016, he found himself dropped in the very next Test match. It was a baffling decision because Ajinkya Rahane was taken in his place and he always under-performs on home soil.
Nair’s confidence had taken a hit and when he was picked up for the Australian tour he made just 54 runs for an average of 13.5 and wasn’t looked at after that. Rahane meanwhile in 2017 averaged just 25 in 8 home Tests and his Sri Lanka batting scores at the end of the year were: 4, 0, 2, 1 and 10.
However after that has begun a really tough South Africa tour, where we traditionally do abysmally: We have lost all but one (a tied affair) Test series there. And here we needed the services of Rahane, who could have redeemed himself.
Before the series began, Rahane on South African soil had four innings for 209 runs at an average close to 70.
Co-incidentally even Rohit Sharma had four innings but for just 45 runs at an average of 11.25.
So Rahane was our best bet and vice-captain to boot. He also seemed to be the chosen one being picked over a triple centurion as mentioned above. In an even more baffling move, Rahane had to make way for Rohit. It’s not as if Rohit was an extra batsman. We went in with five bowlers and so to drop someone like Rahane seems to defy total logic.
Rahane is no overseas flash in the pan and averages 121.5 in West Indies, 57 in Australia, 54 in New Zealand and 45.2 in Sri Lanka in his brief Test career.
So what happened to Team India was no surprise on the second day of the first Test at Cape Town. Quick recap: We undertook our toughest tour, played hardly any practice matches, went in with just five specialist batsmen and dropped our most promising overseas batsman (Rahane) with a captain who had just returned from a break.
The Indian specialist batsmen totally looked clueless against the South African pace attack nobody could even last 100 balls let alone make a century. The five specialist batsmen together made 59 runs.
Had it not been for the Hardik blitzkrieg that followed, it would have been all over on Day 2.
What of Rohit, the man who replaced Rahane? He made just 11 runs. Poor Rohit! He was a laughing stock in the shorter forms of the game when he came. Then one by one he established himself. ODIs. IPLs. International T20s.
In Tests it’s the other way around. After just two innings after his debut in 2013, Rohit averaged 288 and it’s been downhill since then. He did hit his third Test century, with Sri Lanka in December 2017, but his start to the South Africa tour hasn’t been that great.
The start that got away: It is difficult to believe that India got a sensational start in the series. South Africa were 12/3, but they hit out after that. Seven straight batsmen after that hit either a four or a six with AB de Villiers hitting 11 boundaries, captain Faf du Plessis 12, Quinton de Kock 7 and even fast bowler Vernon Philander four.
In 2006 in Karachi, Pakistan were first 0-3 and then 39-6 and yet it was India who lost by 341 runs. Here South Africa after being 12-3 affected a similar turnaround. If Team India’s specialist batsmen don’t up their game, especially from the second innings itself (can they learn from Hardik?) another whitewash is looming!
At the end of Day 2, South Africa is effectively 142/2 and India will have to affect a record chase if they have to win with a draw almost ruled out unless there is rain.Scorecard: India vs South Africa, 1st Test | Full Schedule | Complete Coverage