Another year, another tour, another first-Test loss.
Cape Town 2018.
Why can’t we win?
The psyche of an Indian fan, when Team India goes overseas (exclude Sri Lanka, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh here, no disrespect), is one of trepidation. Years of bitter experiences have made us naturally sceptical about our team’s chances on the tough tours to South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand. Rather unsurprisingly, there’s a second voice that speaks in hushed tones about the glorious chances that await the team, chances to make, or rewrite, history.
Everyone could see the sheer stupidity of scheduling a home series against Sri Lanka right before this tour, that too, one that would eat into the team’s preparation time, and the Boxing Day Test match. But since the BCCI thought otherwise, they did what they wanted to. Result? One of the most well-rounded Indian teams in years, with real bowling firepower and batsmen who had shown their mettle across the world, was left to repeat, instead of rewriting, history, that wistful old dame.
First Test blues are nothing uncommon for Indian teams away from the comforts of the subcontinent. And hence, it was paramount that this team, with its oft-stated desire to prove its greatness in alien conditions, be given every opportunity to do its best. But that’s not what happened, obviously.
Team sheet has names that would have been outlandish under other captains. But in this bullish captain-coach regime, they were only shockers.
Indian fans couldn’t believe their eyes when the scorecard showed SA 12/3 in under half an hour. The wildest dreams had come true and one didn’t want to wake up. But, it didn’t take long for our bowlers to start their routine of one-bad-ball-per-over and using the aforementioned Indian length. SA were let off the hook, first at 12/3 and later at 142/5, when a sub-200 score was a tantalizing possibility. Still, conceding 286 on the first day of an away Test match, after losing the toss, looked okay. It was only 286.
By stumps, though, the bad feeling in the pit of the stomach that had first arisen when du Plessis and de Villiers were batting, had returned.
11 overs. 28/3. The openers and Kohli, gone!
I remember discussing with a friend the next morning about how even 250 would be good enough. We were predicting how many runs each batsman would make. At 92/7 later in the day, our hopes drowned.
Enter Hardik “Kung-fu” Pandya.
He made the most of the early reprieves and played the innings that batsmen better than him, coming up the order, needed to. Still, we weren’t complaining. Anyone scoring would do for us as long as they played for India. Anyone. Even Bumrah.
209 all out was a good score. Notice how the word good is placed here when a day earlier, with SA struggling, it’d have looked terrible. But, that’s life, eh?
Still, when Elgar and Markram easily played out the second evening, things were getting gloomy, both overhead and in our minds.
The washout of the third day sparked hope that the rain would have spiced up the pitch even more and maybe, just maybe, India could restrict SA somewhere under 200. I personally felt that it was absolutely important to bowl them out under the 150-170 range. No one seriously believed Pujara’s claims that India would chase 350, although yes, we were optimistic of the batsmen having a better showing in the second innings.
Again, that’s not what happened, obviously!
What hurt most was the fact that the same old mistakes were committed again. The openers seemed to be playing for a declaration, not chasing a tricky score on a ‘green mamba.’
Some of India’s most famous wins overseas have come on green tracks like this one. Think Lord’s 2014 or Durban 2006. This was a golden opportunity to go 1-0 up in conditions that were as tough as they get. It was also an opportunity to win the first round of the psychological battle against SA, and England and Australia, whom we’re going to play later this year. “You prepare green tracks, we’ll beat you fair and square.”
But what’s past is past. India are 0-1 down and they have to overturn that deficit. With talk of the conditions in the Veld being even more difficult, India are in exactly the kind of situation that calls into service their famed ‘bouncebackability.’
We have a history of faring poorly in the first Tests. And invariably, we get better in the second Tests. Trent Bridge 2007, Adelaide 2003, Wellington 2014, even Colombo 2015, are all examples of that same feature. So yes, there was disappointment and heartbreak after Cape Town 2018. But we will again get behind our team for Centurion. I do believe that India will do better than how they fared there in 2010-11, when they were routed by an innings. The fourth day morning at Cape Town showed that the team was ready to fight tooth-and-nail in the field. Now it must extend that steel to its batting. The series is still alive.
P. S. A very happy new year to all the readers. Apologies for being away from the blog. Life dictates that things are going to remain rocky like this for a while. Wish you have a great, satisfying year ahead.
Share your thoughts on the series in the comments maybe? Let’s roll.
Thanks for reading.