How India can avoid another Cape Town

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 09, 2018 17:42 hrs

The pace attack had given Team India big hopes after setting 208 runs to win the first Test against South Africa at Cape Town. Although it wasn't going to be an easy chase, many believed the present Indian batting line-up was capable enough to gun down the target.

However, moments later, Virat Kohli and his men imploded on a lively track as Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada exposed chinks in the Indian batting armour.

India were on the cusp of creating history but as it turned out the visitors lost the Test by 72 runs to give South Africa a golden 1-0 lead.

Indian batsmen are natural stroke players. They are brought up on a diet of flat pitches and toothless attacks (that is changing to an extent) and indulge in sumptuous feasts on the domestic circuit.

While there have been exceptions in Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Cheteshwar Pujara, most Indian batsmen score their runs dominating opposition attacks rather than grinding them into submission.

However, in challenging overseas conditions against quality pace attacks this is an approach that is often fraught with danger.

In the past Indian batsmen have been pilloried for being tigers at home and lambs abroad. However, since the dawn of the new millennium they have shown a willingness and a capability to score runs even while touring.

Even though Australia had a versatile pace bowling attack than South Africa during Sachin Tendulkar's time, the maestro scored 3630 runs at an average of 55 and a batting strike rate of 59.41 against the Aussies.

Against the Proteas, Tendulkar scored 1741 runs at a batting average of 42.46 and a batting strike rate of 47.72. The reason for that is that the South African pace bowling attack is relentless and hardly offer a bad ball. They keep plugging away at a length in the corridor outside off-stump.

This has been the USP of South African pacers ever since their readmission to world cricket in 1992. No matter how tight the bowling is, batsmen need to find a way to rotate the strike and score runs rather than biding their time and waiting for the loose delivery.

Of course, it is easy for armchair critics to propose solutions from the comfort of their living rooms. South Africa is also a country where the pitches are most conducive for fast bowling taking into account all the countries where Test cricket is played.

Including the UAE, there have been 11 countries which have hosted Test cricket.

Since the 13th of November 1992, when South Africa played their first-ever Test since readmission, the average per wicket in South Africa is 31.19 which is the lowest amongst all the 11 countries. The reasons are bowler-friendly pitches and hostile bowling.

Therefore, while it is prudent to respect the bowlers and show caution, one also has to find a way to score runs even off good balls because it is just a matter of time before a player will get a ball with his name on it.

A leaf from the past

Tendulkar, Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly have scored more than 500 runs in Tests in South Africa.

The famed batting quartet scored 1161, 624, 566 and 506 runs at batting strike rates of 49.44, 37.63, 47.48 and 56.98, respectively.

The career batting strike rates of these four batsmen are 54, 42.5, 49.37 and 51.25, respectively. So, with the exception of Ganguly they have all struggled to score at the same pace in South Africa. Irrespective of results in Tests, Indian batsmen generally score at a quicker rate than their counterparts.

In the first Test at Newlands, India batted three deliveries more than the Proteas in their first innings and eight deliveries more than the hosts in their second innings.

Yet, they lost the match by 72 runs.

This suggests that a change is approach is needed. The table below gives the number of runs scored by the Indian top order batsmen in both innings combined along with their batting strike rate for the entire Test.





Murali Vijay    14   49 28.57
Shikhar Dhawan     32   33 96.96
Cheteshwar Pujara  30 105 28.57
Virat Kohli       33 53 62.26
Rohit Sharma  21 89 23.6
Hardik Pandya  94 100 94

With the exception of Hardik Pandya, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli, the other batsmen struggled to score at even 30 runs per 100 balls.

In fact, Pandya who is a relative newcomer to the Indian team showed the top order how to bat against the Proteas attack. He had a bit of luck and good fortune but what stood out was his audacious approach with the bat.

Pandya scored at a rate of 94 runs per 100 balls whereas the entire Indian top order scored at just 39.51 runs per 100 balls in the opening Test. India scored at a rate of 2.95 for the entire Test, whereas the hosts scored at 3.63. That's a whopping 23.05% faster.

India can still turn things around but they need to avoid knee-jerk reactions. Before the Test, there was a lot of debate as to whether Dhawan merited a place when most critics felt that KL Rahul should have played.

However, India should still persist with Dhawan as he is capable of scoring briskly and giving the South African bowlers something to think about.

Murali Vijay tried to do something alien by chasing wide deliveries in both innings and paid for his folly. Pujara should realise that while he is technically correct and is capable of occupying the crease, he needs to find a way to score briskly.

Perhaps, the most disappointing batting performance in the entire Indian team was that of Rohit Sharma. He was included in the playing XI at Ajinkya Rahane's expense because he is in form and is also capable of destroying any attack on his day.

However, he just poked and prodded his way around like a jittery tail-ender making his international debut. He certainly did not bat like a player who has three ODI double centuries to his name.

The series is not yet lost and India can still stage a comeback. They need to have belief in their ability, change their approach and play positively.

If they persist in the same vein doing what is alien to them, they will once again end up on the wrong side of the result.

The author tweets @ravivenkat007

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