The Freedom Series started off with an exhilarating Test match where ball ended up outperforming bat and South Africa ended up victorious by 72 runs. It was one of the most anticipated Test series for a while between the top two Test sides, the First South Africa vs India Test had its thrills. I look at five talking points from the match:
1. Indian Batsmen Gave Their Wickets To Bad Shots
If you are getting ready for overseas assignments for the next 18 months, you cannot gift wickets to the opposition. India did exactly that. Looking closely at India’s first innings, top order batsmen Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara lost their wickets to poor shots chasing deliveries that could have been left alone or defended. Even in the second innings, Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya and Vijay lost their wickets to poor shot selection. As a result, India’s main batsmen gave their wickets too cheaply and so in the first innings India were reduced to 92/7 and in the second innings they were reduced to 82/7. This is simply not good enough anywhere, let alone in Tests overseas.
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2. This Might Be India’s Best Seam Bowling Attack Touring Overseas
If there was one huge positive in India’s grand home season, it was the emergence of Indian seamers as wicket takers in spin-friendly conditions. While Jasprit Bumrah’s inclusion raised eyebrows given his limited first-class experience, he showed quality especially on the fourth day. It was Bhuvneshwar Kumar who did the damage in the first innings, the seam attack showed its collective quality in the second innings with the seamers dismissing South Africa for just 130. Mohammad Shami who was off radar in the first day, came back roaring on the fourth day. If they start overseas is like this, India can be positive for their remaining games.
3. South Africa Used Their Resources Well
Home Conditions and their advantage is one thing, using them judiciously is another. South Africa did just that. India vs South Africa was hyped up as a battle of skill, patience and quality. South Africa showed more in every department than the Indians. With the bat when they were 142/5 in the first innings, the final five wickets added 144 runs. With the ball, when India were scripting a comeback, South Africa managed to get a 77-run lead which ended up being decisive. When India started well in their chase of 208, South Africa did not get frustrated, they took wickets in clusters at regular intervals. South Africa were just more professional.
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4. Hardik Pandya Has Done His Reputation No Harm
One player who burst onto the scene to become one of the prominent limited-overs all-rounders was Hardik Pandya. He was rested for the Tests against Sri Lanka to manage his workload and one big player in this South Africa vs India series to watch out for is Pandya. Pandya made this Test match his own. On the second day when he walked out at 81/6, trailing by 205 runs, Pandya counter-attacked. Dropped on 15 by Dean Elgar, he made the most of it enroute to a 95-ball 93. He stitched a 99-run eighth wicket partnership with Bhuvneshwar to take India to 209. He displayed the best approach on a wicket which was helping the seamers throughout.
Pandya looked to be positive and was on the lookout for runs which only AB de Villiers did apart from him and made a good score himself. Later in the day, he dismissed the two South African openers which kept the Test in balance. He certainly did his reputation no harm, one would say if not for him, the margin of defeat would have been much bigger for India.
5. A Few Changes Are Needed For India
The biggest call India took was to drop Ajinkya Rahane and play Rohit Sharma at Number Five. Rahane, considered India’s “Overseas Specialist”, though out of form in India’s last series against Sri Lanka, should have been perhaps one of the first names in the XI. Rohit Sharma showed grit in the first innings but could only make 11 and made 10 in the second innings getting out inside edging a wide ball outside off. While Rohit is in great form in White-ball Cricket and had a good Test series against Sri Lanka, Rahane needs to play ahead of him overseas given his past performances, which make him stand above the rest.
One change India could make is replacing Shikhar Dhawan with KL Rahul. Dhawan looked under pressure throughout and ultimately was dismissed once trying to play a pull shot and once to a short ball. KL Rahul could be drafted in as he has made runs in Australia before.
While the South Africa vs India Test series has started with a gripping Test match, India have been made to see a mirror and their batting woes have been exposed overseas, digging up old wounds. South Africa on the other end were professional but need to ensure that they do not collapse like they did in the second innings as India are certainly no pushovers. We only hope the rest of the series is played with such intensity and we see a great contest between bat and ball.
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