NAGPUR: It was 7.30 am and players were yet to leave for the ground. Even that early, there were about a hundred behind barricades put up by the police, peeping at the exit of the hotel where the team shuttle was waiting. The VCA Stadium also wore a busy look and over 5000 were in attendance, which is a decent turnout, considering the venue’s history of not drawing too many to Test matches.
In a way, those who came to cheer India had reasons to be satisfied. For, apart from witnessing the hosts claim two defending 215, they saw the highest total of the series. It was also the longest of the six completed innings in three Tests so far, lasting 78.2 overs. Ten more deliveries and there was a chance of seeing the second new ball, which is still to be claimed, by either side. Statisticians might have a tough time finding whether batting in every innings had ever been so difficult in the sub-continent.
But then, that’s what India have chosen. ‘Give them the reverse of what we get there’ has been the theme and Virat Kohli must have got tired of saying that to a media which refuses to stop asking. “Is this good for cricket?” was the first question for Sanjay Bangar after play on Wednesday and the batting coach repeated what the captain has been harping on. “When India plays abroad, the ball starts seaming from the first over. Out here, it’s spinning. It’s a question of skill in both cases.”
The former all-rounder, who famously battled unfriendly conditions to lay the foundation of an Indian win against England at Leeds in 2002, added that odds are equal for both teams. “Challenges are the same. Whoever adapts better has a chance of winning. And we have to accept this has been a low-scoring series.” For the record, following India’s declaration after 180 overs in the 2002 Test, England lost by an innings but not before hanging on for almost 200 overs.
Back to present, the pitch lived up to promises of a four-day finish. The new ball kept low, first puff of dust was seen in the first hour and although it didn’t jump awkwardly, a few turned sharply enough to beat batsman and wicketkeeper. Some of the batsmen actually did well against the spinners and looked on course for bigger knocks before being undone by the reverse swing of Morne Morkel.
“Patience becomes an important virtue on such wickets. Against spin, you have to trust your defence and try to get to the pitch of the ball. It’s a question of using the depth of the crease as well as using feet. Some of our players who got off to starts and lasted longer exhibited these things. They played a lot of balls,” said Bangar.
Apart from moderate contributions from frontline batsmen, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin chipped in and these are runs that might prove costly for South Africa in their bid to make a match of this. Indians spinners have taken no time in striking back and conditions are expected to get worse for batting.
“Spinners should bowl faster to get more bite off such pitches. If you are slow, batsmen get time to adjust,” said Simon Harmer. The South Africa off-spinner might have cracked the code to handle such tracks, but it’s their batsmen who look at sea. Unless they find a way, predictions of even a four-day finish might prove too long.
India (1st innings) Vijay lbw Morkel 40, Dhawan c&b Elgar 12, Pujara lbw Harmer 21, Kohli c Vilas b Morkel 22, Rahane b Morkel 13, Rohit c De Villiers b Harmer 2, Saha c Saha b Harmer 32, Jadeja b Rabada 34, Ashwin b Tahir 15, Mishra lbw Harmer 3, Ishant (not out) 0. Extras (b 15, lb 3, nb 1, w 2) 21. Total (all out, 78.2 overs) 215. Fall of wickets: 1-50, 2-69, 3-94, 4-115, 5-116, 6-125, 7-173, 8-201, 9-215. Bowling: Morkel 16.1-7-35-3, Rabada 17-8-30-1, Harmer 27.2-2-78-4, Elgar 4-0-7-1, Tahir 12.5-1-41-1, Duminy 1-0-6-0.
South Africa (1st innings) Elgar (not out) 7, Van Zyl c Rahane b Ashwin 0, Tahir b Jadeja 4, Amla (not out) 0. Extras 0, Total (for two wickets, 9 overs) 11. Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-9. Bowling: Ishant 2-1-4-0, Ashwin 4-2-5-1, Jadeja 3-1-2-1.