MOHALI: In the build-up to the inaugural Gandhi-Mandela Test series between India and South Africa much focus had been around the 22 yards. South Africa expected it to take turn early in the game, and Indians believed it would be good for batting for a couple of days. Curator Daljit Singh said it is going to be a sporting wicket. And when the match started and saw 12 wickets fall on the opening day, it drew mixed reactions from the two sides.
India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar, despite seeing his team being bowled out for 201, vouched that the pitch isn’t a bad one. “It is a very challenging wicket. I am not saying it is good or bad. Run making is not easy and it looks 201 on board, but it is a lot more than that. You don’t want to see flat wickets where spectators have fun watching runs being made. Bowlers should also get a chance and on this wicket bowlers have an upper hand. Batsmen should cope with it,” he said.
South Africa opener Dean Elgar, who accounted for four wickets in eight overs with his part-time left-arm spin, was scathing in his assessment. “It is not a very good cricket wicket. It is a result wicket which is expected when you come here. It is already looking like a Day 4 wicket. But honestly speaking, we didn’t expect it to crumble so much,” he said.
From team director Ravi Shastri to captain Virat Kohli, Indians have openly spoken about the need to play on turning tracks at home, but with their own batting appearing clueless when it spins, the strategy might backfire. Even Elgar warned them as he hoped South Africa can bat once and for long. “Kudos to India, if they are going to prepare pitches like this! We expected it and this can go either way. Indians like to put opposition under pressure when their tails are up and it could backfire and turn out to be a victory for us,” he said.
With due respect to what Elgar said, the wicket was hardly a minefield. It did turn, but not square. Like Murali Vijay showed, it only called for a greater show of skills. Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and even Vijay got out to loose shots and whenever someone looked compact, they hardly faced problems. “It was more mental. Most wickets came when the ball didn’t turn that much. It is just a mental challenge to score on this wicket. As Vijay showed, runs can be made on this wicket. It was testing the batsmen’s patience. Even for the bowlers it won’t be easy. They need to work harder as it is slow,” Bangar said.
When the South African media manager introduced Elgar as an all-rounder it drew some laughter from the scribes, but the surprise hero of the day was hardly surprised. “I have always had the ability to bowl and whenever I bowl, batsmen don’t generally go after me. They become tentative and it works to my favour. The wicket has broken up and there are rough patches and I just tried hitting that spot and ended up with four wickets,” he said.