19 March 2018 08:09 AM



Where Is The Improvement, Mr. Shastri?

When it came to batting and surviving the Indians just dug a hole for themselves

CAPE TOWN: "For us, every game is a home game. Even this game at Newlands. You see the pitch and you adapt … no excuses, no complaints."

Ravi Shastri, India’s head-coach, might now have to eat his words after his boys were reduced to 28 for 3 at Stumps on Day 1 of the Cape Town Test. Following all the hypes surrounding the so-called improved Indian team coming into this tour of South Africa, it has been the same old story — the bowlers failing to get rid of the last five wickets cheaply and batsmen struggling against the new ball.

Having found South Africa 12 for 3 thanks to Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s breathtaking opening spell and 142 for 5 (Remember, they are playing one less specialist batting option), India couldn’t hold on to the advantage. They let the last five batsmen score 146 runs on that spicy wicket. And at the end of the hair-raising action-packed day, the visitors ended up losing three top batsmen, including skipper Virat Kohli. Now, for them, the task is looking as tough as climbing the Table Mountain.

Meanwhile, those who have followed India’s overseas tours in this decade, are quite familiar with such scenarios.

Yes, the wicket has a bit of help for the fast bowlers but by no means, we can consider these conditions as extreme. Application is the key here and South Africa’s middle and lower order showed that and Indian batters on Day 1, couldn’t.

Firstly, in the bowling department, barring Bhuvneshwar, the other two front-line pacers – Mohammed Shami and debutant Jasprit Bumrah – had a disappointing outing. Especially, a lot was expected from Shami, but he didn’t look match fit for me. With the new ball. the Bengal speedster was not hitting the right areas on a consistent basis. When his partner Bhuvneshwar was in the middle of a brilliant opening spell and maintaining pressure from one end, Shami’s wayward bowling allowed someone like AB De Villiers to get away. Though with the semi-new and old ball, he pulled back things somewhat.

Bumrah, on the other hand, was allowing the batsmen freebies initially by drifting onto their pads. Also, today, he couldn’t live up to the expectation of being a specialist against the tail-enders – a reputation which he has earned in the limited-overs formats.

When it came to batting and surviving 15 overs at the end of the day with a minimum amount of damage, the Indians just dug a hole for themselves. Murli Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli — all three dismissals were the results of poor shot selections. Now, all the hopes are on Cheteshwar Pujara to bail India out of this situation.

Form, bench strength and experience — coming into this high-profile series India, which is the world’s No. 1 ranked Test side on paper, seemed to have every base covered. Addressing the arrival press conference, Shastri boosted highly about these positives.

"All I can say is the team is up for the challenge. If you asked me four years ago, I would have said no. But this team has gained in experience," he said. "The beauty of this team is it does not matter which opposition it is. We respect all opposition. We look at the pitch and adapt to those conditions. You have got bench strength in your fast bowling department, which is the key in taking 20 wickets."

Unfortunately, when it came to putting these words into action, Shastri’s boys have failed miserably, at least on Day 1 of the tour. There is a hell and heaven difference between dominating teams in sub-continent and in overseas conditions. Hope Kohli and Co. will understand this at the end of this tour.

Maybe it is a bit premature to come to a conclusion, but so far, I haven’t found any improvement in the performance of this team.