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Hopes rise only to be dashed

Posted January 10th, 2018, 10:50 AM IST

Hopes rise only to be dashed

Another dream has been shattered. So many such dreams have taken shape over the years, but only to shatter and all followers of Indian cricket may have become inured to this sense of loss in such tragic ends to hopes. There were glimpses of a breakthrough from the first morning when Team India showed they had a pace attack potent enough to exploit the conditions. There was an action replay on a freshened up pitch that lay under the covers on the rainy day. But India’s batting was not technically equipped to survive the same conditions.

This is an old story of batting inadequacy and bowling potency when the balance tilts in favour of the quicker bowlers. It invariably happens outside Asia and no matter how hard the preparation or how classy the batting line-up, truth is Team India has always failed to live up to the challenge consistently enough in South Africa and Australia to win Test series. There was no reason to think things would be different this time, apart from a belief that a lethal pace attack that could
compensate by dismissing the opposition very cheaply.





Things could still happen, but then what are the odds of a team overturning a 1-0 deficit in a land where it has never won a Test series? There were immense positives though to be drawn from the performances like Hardik Pandya’s fearless batting in the first essay and the way Jasprit Bumrah exploited the bounce with a very high arm action, much like Morne Morkel. In the end, it was the hustling wicket-to-wicket line discipline of Vernon Philander that settled the issue.

Accuracy in helpful bowling conditions can do wonders. A somewhat green Indian pace attack didn’t realise this in some wayward bowling stemming from excessive ambition to bang it in and get results. Two seasoned campaigners in ABD and skipper Faf may have taken the Test away from India on the first day.

This has happened before, as it did in Durban in 1996 when the Proteas laid out a moist green trap for India after having suffered in the dust bowls out here. A more impressive looking Indian batting line-up, including Sachin Tendulkar, was then shot out for 100 and 66, principally by Allan Donald.

History did suggest that Virat Kohli’s batsmen would struggle, much as illustrious men of the preceding generations did. And yet we were hopeful because the South African batting may not be in top hole fettle this season as they haven’t had too much Test cricket. Such thoughts were rubbed out as the Indians showed a lack of expertise to tackle the conditions. The exception, of course, was Hardik Pandya who may have decided that staying positive was the best way to get past the difficulties that all batsmen were facing.

The gifts of a natural striker of the ball in the fashion of Kapil Dev were there for all to see. Maybe, he can’t be classified in the company of Kapil with the ball, but it is possible that he will emulate the great all-rounder in the matter of making his Test runs count because he has the ability to score them when the team needs them the most while also proving a handy fourth seamer in away Tests. He proved resourceful in moving the ball both ways to pick up crucial wickets during the second innings crash of the home team that rekindled hopes in Indian hearts.

The Pandya performance regenerates hope in the sense that this young team of Kohli, which will be ranked number one in the world even if it loses the next two Tests, might be better off with the chastening performance of the first Test. If they can put up a better and more collective batting show in the first innings they can expect to put some pressure on the home side. Of course, a lot would depend on the conditions although it is unlikely that the lively fourth day pitch will be seen again in the series. That was a freak of nature as a pitch under covers started shedding its moisture even as it was quickening up in the course of the Test.

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