Cape Town: Aggression might come naturally to India skipper Virat Kohli and chief coach Ravi Shastri, but it is one’s tactical acumen that makes a player a good captain and even as both Kohli and Shastri have time and again spoken about playing five bowlers to help pick 20 wickets and win Test matches abroad, it once again came to the fore on Monday that it was the batsmen that let the team down in the first Test at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town.
It sounds good to hear when the skipper or the coach says that ‘we play to win’, ‘we go out to express ourselves’, ‘we believe in backing our instincts’ etc etc. But when the team folds up for 135 in 42.4 overs while chasing a target of 208 that could help the team to register its first-ever win in Cape Town, it shows that action speaks louder than words on the cricket field.
When CricketNext asked the India skipper if the ploy to play five bowlers backfired in the opening Test – in the post-match press conference – the batsman admitted that at the end of the day, the batsmen need to back the bowlers and provide them with the cushion of runs or end up chasing down totals.
“Taking 20 wickets to win a Test match is the priority. But if your batsmen don’t bat well, then it doesn’t matter. If you are not getting close to their total, it doesn’t matter if you have taken 20 wickets or not. We needed to bat better than what we did, To not having got the job done, it hurts and it should hurt because that’s the only way you can rectify the mistakes and come out with more motivation in the next match.
“We lost four wickets in four overs. If you do that, it is very tough for you to come back and win Test matches from there. You want their bowlers to come back for second and third spells. We failed to do that and need to apply ourselves better. At the same time, we need to have intent because the kind of bowling attack they have, you can’t even be in a zone of not having intent and see off 35-40 overs. You need to find the perfect balance to do well in South Africa especially where there is more bounce. You cannot be casual at the same time you cannot have loose shots also,” Kohli said.
Clearly, he did not apply that himself as he played across the line and was caught plumb in front by Vernon Philander. The same went for ODI deputy Rohit Sharma. Drafted into the team in place of Test deputy Ajinkya Rahane, all Rohit managed to do was hang his bat in the air to a ball on the fifth stump and drag that back onto the stumps. Opener Shikhar Dhawan – preferred over the technically more sound KL Rahul – also failed to stay away from a bouncer and ended up gloving it. In contrast South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis, opener Dean Elgar and wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock got genuine wicket-taking deliveries.
These things must change at the earliest if you wish to pick five bowlers and win Test matches because at the end of the day, the bowlers need runs on the board when defending and they need the confidence that their batsmen can also score the runs after they pick 8 wickets for 65 runs like on the fourth morning.
After all, Faf has made it clear that it will be all about using pace and bounce to derail the Indian batsmen in this series. “This morning felt unplayable when we batted. I think pace and bounce is something that you look for in South Africa. There was movement in this Test match. Obviously overhead conditions and moisture could play a role. When we go to Pretoria, we will hopefully get the same and in Johannesburg. Those are renowned for being a little bit quicker. Hopefully we’ll get them there,” he said.
Faf also praised the Indian fast bowling battery, saying they have the attack for South African conditions. “They’ve got guys that can swing the ball, guys that can seam the ball around and they’ve also got a bit of pace. It’s similar to our attack. So I’m not surprised. We wanted the wicket to be a little bit like that, so we expected the wicket to be a bit more bowler friendly. You just needed one or two guys to step up and score some runs. So we did that fortunately in that first innings. I felt that one of me, AB and Quinton could have pushed through to get an 80-odd and put an even bigger total,” he said.
But the question that still remains is whether or not the Indian batsmen have the heart to back the Indian bowlers with their own performances. Rahul and Rahane definitely need to return to the scheme of things on these wickets because commentating on the game and playing the game are as different as chalk and cheese.