Day three, open thread

Work-wise, this was a packed weekend — which worked in my favor. The sessions and periods of play that I watched in the first two days of the first RSA-India Test sufficed — total immersion would have been akin to being strapped to a chair and being forced to watch paint dry.

The cricket was, in a word, boring — for all the hype about AB de Villiers taking on the spinners, fact is none of the South African batsmen, batting on day two from a position of considerable comfort, were proactive; they never seemed inclined to try and step up the pressure. An overall run rate of 3.17 tells its own story; when that run rate is achieved on the back of a first day that produced 291/2, it becomes a bedtime story for the habitual insomniac.

If South Africa played to its patented safety first template and showed no real urgency in run-making [Kallis, his mind fettered by the desire for that elusive double ton, was as strokeless on day two as he was positive on day one], the Indians were equally disappointing. The wicket had bounce and sharp turn [we could yet come to regret not having taken the courageous step of going in with five bowlers, and including Pragyan Ojha in the mix] — the kind of conditions spinners revel in and batsmen, especially from teams like SA that are not known for their skill at playing the turning ball, dread. And yet the lines were flat, the bowling uninspired. Amit Mishra inspired oohs and aahs with sharp turn — but a foot of turn is of debatable value when the bowler is hitting the line outside off as his stock ball.

As for Bajji, any time you find an off spinner bowling the bulk of his deliveries from around the wicket to right handed batsmen, you’ve got to figure something is way wrong. The likes of EAS Prasanna, newly picked as one of India’s two spin bowling coaches, will tell you that when there is turn to be had, the off spinner’s stock ball is the one just short of driving length outside off, turning in to hit the top of off. That line forces the batsman to play the turning, bouncing ball from beside it, without the protection of his body behind the bat; Bajji’s preference on the other hand seemed to be to bowl off, to off&middle and middle stump lines — just right for batsmen to get behind it, watch the turn and play it down and away through the “leg trap” for easy runs.

Add missed chances and an umpire seemingly unschooled in the fact that the LBW is a legitimate mode of dismissal, and it all made for less than compelling viewing. More of the same, I suspect, today, though as I write this Sehwag has already hit Dale Steyn for the first four of the day — India with a batting lineup missing the solidity of Dravid and the silken grace of Laxman has to make 359 as its first target, to get past the follow on mark, and then fight its way to 558 and beyond. Coach Gary Kirsten spoke of how there is yet a chance for the home side — but realistically speaking, there are only two results possible: a draw, and a South Africa win. And the way the game is set up, by the end of play today we will have a fair idea which of those two results we are likely to get [oh, and between that four and this sentence, Gambhir’s been taken out by Morkel].

Add post: The first hour is not yet done, and already SA has a firm grip on the game. Gambhir, Vijay and Tendulkar back in the hut — and all three batsmen undone by the extra pace of the Morne-Steyn combine. Pace through the air — the quality the Indian seam bowlers lack — is proving to be the key differentiator. Two quicks regularly hitting speeds in excess of 145k, coming at them from either end, appear more than the Indian batsmen have the will, or skill, to handle. Gambhir got the kind of ball no batsman wants as the first delivery of a session; Vijay misjudged the line and extent of movement; Tendulkar made a mess of trying to counter away swing generated at great pace — and India, 60/3 at the time of writing this, are now dependent on Sehwag, two debutants [one of them a reserve wicket keeper] and captain MS Dhoni to save their blushes.

Open thread, people, for any comments that may occur to you in course of the day’s play. Will check back off and on…

26 thoughts on “Day three, open thread

  1. I believe it’s time for Bhajji to graciously bid adieu to Test cricket. Currently, his bowling has no grace left – IMHO. He’s just proving that he can’t LEAD the spin attack by himself. He needs someone to tighten the other end up – ofcourse AK is long gone !!

    Mishra bowled so beautifully yest, but with no luck and even Amla at 150+ no, was struggling to read him consistently. Hope he gets better with time.

    • Agreed a spent Kumble seems like a better option than Bhajji on current form at the very least we need Kumble to manage some kind of a spin foundation or something.

      • Arun,

        I wasn’t referring to AK being an option.

        But with AK being as solid as he was, batsmen were many a times, forced to take risks at the other end. It creates pressure on the batsman and makes them do things that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Bhajji has immensely benefitted from it and is sorely missing that today.

        I believe, as a bowler, he has stopped growing in this thoughts and he thinks every batsman is a Ricky Ponting to get out in the 3rd/4th over to him. Batsmen have worked him out and play him very well these days.

        Come to think of it –

        1) when was the last time Bhajji got a 5 wicket haul ?? Memory goes back to NZ in beginning of 2009. After that, zilch !!!

        2) Compare him to other offies like Swann, Hauritz (ok – just a series or two!!) -> Swann troubled the SA batsman but is probably not as skilled as Bhajji is.

        Probly, flogging a dead horse…Will stop my rants here 🙂

  2. The lack of really quick bowlers also robs us of reliable option during a make-or-break situation in a game. Its also the reason we cant bowlout relatively weaker batting sides like B’desh, whereas an SA or Aussie line up will wrap those sides up with intimidation , bowling at 90mph or more. In the recent tour of B’desh, we usually batted them out of the game and then waited for them to commit harakiri to get wickets

  3. Like to see SA fast bowlers steaming in, bowling fast and accurate stuff. Clean actions, the ball moving just that extra to worry the batsmen, getting good bounce just everything that’s there to be had – They do all this without any fuss, no hype and unwanted banter – AND STILL the batsmen are jumping around the crease !! Fast bowling at its best !!

    • Totally agree — been a fascinating spectacle. Edgy Test cricket the way it should be played — as a high quality duel between quick bowlers and aggressive batsmen, without any unwanted fuss.

    • And immediately, this happens –

      “Steyn exchanges a few words as he walks past Sehwag who stares back and I thinks says a few things back as well ” in the 39th over !!

      Kaboom ! Splat ! 😀

  4. So hoping for Badri to do well.. Likes of him need to get in the groove if we have to look beyond thye Wall, VVS & SRT. Yuvi is anyway a misfit in the test side.
    You are absoutely correct about the trouble being the extra pace of the SA bowlers. On benign wickets , against quality batsmen, this will always give an edge to the bowling side. And that is why teams like Aus and SA still remain more threatening sides than Ind , irrespective of the rankings. Ind have bowlers who can exploit the conditions and seem to be helpless when such conditions dont exist.

  5. So far, very good innings from Sehwag, under pressure. Hope these 2 see off Steyn & Morkel. I don’t think the support bowling is good enough to test Sehwag.

  6. I had the same feeling when I watched bits and pieces of game yesterday. Ball was turning a foot for both Bhajji and Mishra. There was fair bit of bounce as well and we should’d been able to restrict SA on such helpful wicket. It was rank poor bowling from our side that allowed them to get to this score.

    All 3 wickets that fell today were on pretty good deliveries, so nothing against our batsmen so far. Murli was set up beautifully by Steyn and he got a very good lesson in facing real test match opposition. Not too hopeful about this test but if the younger lot can learn and apply themselves in this situation, it’ll be a big gain for BCCI team in long run.

  7. Prem,

    I don’t agree with your opinion that Harbhajan should have bowled mostly from over the wicket. In fact, if he had bowled round the wicket on day one when he noticed Kallis’ tactic of playing the ball outside the line of off-stump he would have been more successful than he was. In addition to bringing the LBW back into the equation the angle of the delivery would help the doosra to turn more than it would coming from over the wicket. He did get two wickets bowling round the wicket and he would have got more if had not gone so wide off the stumps to deliver the ball. Murali, for many years now, prefers bowling from round the wicket.

    • Fair enough, mate, I was calling it as I saw it. My problem with the round the wicket line was that it allowed the batsmen to play from behind the ball, and to negate the threat by working runs steadily through the on side. One wicket that Bajji got was of a Jacques Kallis in a state of advanced paralysis induced by the double hundred on the horizon.

      • If you have a leg-slip, short-square-leg and a forward-shortleg you can stem the leakage of runs and give yourself a chance to pick up wickets off tickles and bat-pads. We had one less fielder close-in on the on-side in my opinion. Remember, Amla would have also been out to Bhajji if Vijay had held on to a dolly.

        • Like Prem, I too prefer seeing the off spinner bowl over the wicket to a right hander when it had so much of turn. By coming round the wickets, Bajji was not making full use of a spinning track. Agreed there was a dropped catch. But on such a turning track, Bajji’s figures hardly do any justice!

          • He did bowl over the wicket for most of the first day without any wickets to show far. He did not even trouble the batsmen then.

  8. I am worried about our spin talent more than our batting the likes of Pujara, Pandey etc are waiting in the wings and we should at the very least give them some opportunities before judging on their skill or lack thereof on spin and pace though we hardly hear about anyone Harbhajan is fast becoming the Agarkar of spin and there is no one pushing him for his spot. Our chief selector took exception to Laxman’s comments on our domestic spin talent! what about the spinners in our national team!

  9. It isn’t about the pitch assisting anyone. It is about the quality of the bowling. All 3 wickets fell to excellent deliveries, which may well have accounted for RSD too if he had been playing.

    • Exactly. But, more often than not RSD survives such moments as he has proved throughout his career (even when he was woefully out of form like the 2007-08 period). Anyone remember the 1st test against SL when he rescued us from 32/4 which was probably the latest instance? People don’t realize what he means for Indian batting simply because he was always there. Now that suddenly he’s unavailable, we might learn to appreciate him and his deeds a bit more.

  10. Prem:

    So you think India can save this match still?

    I just have a bad feeling about the match. This being billed the clash of the best test team and we (india) might come up way short

  11. A draw looks the best possibility. To be fair, VS & ST apart, none of the others have faced pace of this calibre before. Rather than going “hai, hai”, might as well view the 1st inning as the intro & the 2nd as the real test for our blokes.

  12. 56/3. If this is the future without Dravid, I’m worried. And suddenly, the pitch has started assisting the bowlers:-)

    • I suspect the commentators will come up with some such rubbish — but seriously, the pitch is doing exactly what it did yesterday. The Proteas quicks are genuinely quick, which is the only difference here — the relative lack of pace of the Indians meant RSA could counter movement; that same movement allied to extreme pace, relentlessly from both ends, is proving a bit more than we bargained for.

      • Prem, I think more than the pace, it is the consistency of line and length, and working to a plan that has made the likes of Steyn look much better. Ishant consistently touched the 135+ mark – which is exactly what Steyn is bowling at. But while Steyn looks very relaxed, graceful and in perfect control, Ishant looked completely off balanced and more worried about not running to the danger area! To put it simply, Steyn is a class apart.

    • looks like glimpse of the future….

      we have been playing badly in first test of series, in almost all recent ones. Against aussie, SL. even first innings against Bangladesh. my feeling is that we will do well next match and atleast draw the series.

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