India v SA: Test 2

“It’s funny how things change in a matter of weeks, or just about five days,” Kohli said on the eve of the second Test. “Before the first Test, no one thought that he should be in the XI, and now suddenly people are looking at the other option. For us as a team, it’s all about finding the right balance. If players fit in in the kind of balance we want to go with as a side, then they will fit in. We certainly don’t go on opinions that are created outside, and ‘talk of the town’, and all those sort of things.”

That’s Virat Kohli speaking, ahead of the second Test starting today at Supersport Park. Which makes you wonder who he has been listening to — pretty much every member of the commentariat, and large sections of the fans, were sure in their minds that Rahane would be playing; Rohit’s inclusion came as a rude shock. So yeah, not sure who those “people” are that Virat heard.

The noises coming from the sidelines of Centurion are, to use a polite word, interesting. In sum, the suggestion is that Parthiv Patel will come in, both Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan will sit out. Patel to open with KL Rahul, the middle order to be Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Rohit.

All of it is bazaar gossip at the moment, but the fact that cricket reporters and commentators present in SA are retailing these items is a reflection of the kind of thinking going on in the Indian dressing room. And it underlines the problem of team selection on a short, intense tour: If you get it wrong the first time round, you are likely to spend the rest of the tour scrambling to put various fingers in various parts of the dyke where leaks have sprung up.

The original problems spring from the fact that at Newlands, the team brains trust — which on tour is pretty much Kohli and “elder buddy” Shastri — picked Dhawan over Rahul to open, despite there being conclusive evidence that the left-hander is the proverbial deer in the headlights when good fast bowlers in helpful conditions make the ball climb into his chest and above, on the line of the stumps. Dhawan can bully the ball if he gets width, but bring it into his body and he is a different, and very uncertain, player altogether.

The error got compounded by the choice of Rohit, on one day form, over Rahane’s proven capability overseas — a point discussed at some length in this podcast I did yesterday for a couple of guys based in Boston. Those choices proved erroneous — and as often happens with our team “think tank”, instead of wiping the board clean and starting over, we try and find band-aid solutions. Can’t drop Rohit, can’t leave out Rahane again, so let’s drop a highly competent wicket-keeper in favor of someone who can put the pads on and go out to open; maybe he will slash a few, maybe he will connect with a few of those slashes, maybe we will get some runs…

Interestingly, while there is so much talk going around of how the batting lineup is likely to be rejigged, there is little or no talk of the bowling attack, and whether we have the right personnel. Given what we know of this team’s thinking, chances are if at all they change, it will be Shami out and Ishant in. Because Bhuvi is too much of a proven commodity to drop; Bumrah is the “new find” and an indication of this brave new India, and Pandya is, well, Pandya, so you can’t make changes there.

Some things that might be worth keeping in mind: Centurion hasn’t had a Test in over a year, so there is no telling what the pitch will actually play like. There is some talk of it being brown — but “brown” doesn’t in itself preclude pace and bounce; neither of those are the function of the colour of the wicket; its character is determined by the soil used, the nature of preparation, the amount of pre-match watering, and related factors.

If you look at history, Centurion has always been a quick bowler’s pitch — you have to think really hard to come up with a single instance of a spinner making some kind of mark on that track. It is also a pace and bounce track more than a swing and seam track. To my mind, an ideal combination for those conditions would be Umesh and Bhuvi opening, with Ishant and Hardik coming behind them, and Ravi Jadeja as the sole spinner. The top three quicks replicate the attack that gave the Aussies such a hard time even on Indian tracks; Jadeja over Ashwin because on wickets not likely to aid turn, Jadeja with his tighter lines and clever bowling is almost certain to prove more effective than Ashwin. He is also the better defensive option in case of need — he can bowl all day from one end if he has to, allowing India to rotate its attacking quicks in short bursts at the other end.

Which leaves the batting — and again, the ideal combination in my mind is the one that should have done duty in Newlands: Vijay and Rahul opening (unlike LoIs and T20s, makeshift solutions don’t work as well in Tests; you need specialists for the job of taking on specialist quicks); Pujara, Kohli and Rahane making up the middle; Pandya and Jadeja behind them  and Saha in next.

Even as I type that, though, I know to a near certainty that most of this is unlikely to happen — but there is no harm wishing.

The home team, meanwhile, has only one problem, and it is a great one to have: they have four, maybe five quality quicks on the bench and they need to figure who plays in place of Dale Steyn. I was picking, I’d go with the experience of Chris Morris over the current form and raw talent of Lungi Ngidi or Duanne Oliver, who SA fielded against Sri Lanka.

As I said somewhere in-between, all of this, and some of the nonsense going around about “playing with intent”, was discussed extensively in the podcast, so I’ll leave the link here once more.

When play starts, I’ll do the usual Twitter thread. See you there.



15 thoughts on “India v SA: Test 2

    • More or less, thanks, struggling with some health-related issues made worse by other issues. Will be back once I get sorted.

  1. How does it feel, being so, so utterly wrong?

    • Was I? Really? ONE wicket in the entire Indian second innings fell to a ball keeping low. In Indian conditions, which we should be used to, you get at least one ball doing that every OVER.

      Hardly sounds like “so, so utterly wrong”, but hey. (BTW, if you — like others who called me or mailed me) are thinking of the Kohli dismissal, don’t — see the video. It is replayed in slow motion because of the DRS referral. And the ball tracker shows the ball hitting the TOP of middle stump. Which is what quick bowlers aim to hit — whatever else it was doing, that ball was hardly “keeping low”

      • Agree to disagree about Kohli. A bouncer hitting top of middle did keep low. Not saying that was the case here, but I reckon Kohli knew about the bounce a little more than you and I watching on TV. And yes, I wrote that after Kohli. His wicket was the game, as it was in the first Test IMO.

  2. “the seam bowlers (I use the descriptor loosely)”

    Call it delusion or naivete, but you’ll see few Indian people disparage themselves in such a manner. You did the same thing in the first Test when you claimed that they had four bowlers bowling upwards of 90 mph, which was patently untrue. An Indian bowling at 140 clicks is fast medium, but watch commentators and experts bend themselves backwards claiming Steyn is the fastest since white lightning, even if he hasn’t touched 150 ever, and maxes out at 143, in South Africa.

    For all the horrors that Modi has unleashed on our bhookha nanga country, this is one thing he’s done well, he’s arrested a bit of the self flagellation that the INC had bestowed on the nation through the various modes that they control the dissemination of information. Nehru’s Anglophilia and an aversion to Indian way of life seeped through the system to deny us of any sense of self respect, even in areas that we were good at. You might sneer and call my argument silly, but I really do believe that most, if not all, of our intellectuals are wallowing in a constant state of misery, as well as have sat themselves on a pedestal from whence they judge everybody else. Another typical British obsession. Can’t possibly be a coincidence, that.

    Yes, our bowlers are seam bowlers. Shami has a very good seam position most of the time, as does Pandya. Ishant has always bowled with a scrambled seam but even he had it in control for a lot of the last year to year and a half. Don’t know enough about Bhuvi to comment yet, but yeah, we have pace bowlers, and yes, they do use the seam.

    • I’m sorry, I think I was a bit harsh. It’s just a pet peeve of mine. Even with the new kid that they fielded, he tops out at 140 odd clicks, but they’ll be damned if they didn’t introduce him as right arm fast before he bowled a single ball. Even Umesh didn’t get that luxury, and he and Aaron were topping out at 150 when they started. If Umesh fields in the third Test, you can guaran-damn-tee that he’ll be called a medium fast, or fast medium if they’re feeling generous. You’ve seen this all your career I’m sure. Srinath was supposed to be quick, but they’d never bill him as such. Because we fielded Praveen Kumar and Munaf became a wannabe McGrath, all our bowlers are trundlers. It’s bullshit.

      • Fair enough. My response, just so you know, stems from MY pet peeve. Folks get pissed at things they see elsewhere (often with good reason); then find some unlikely button in a tweet or post of mine and sew an entire vest of angst around it, and I find myself having to answer not for my words and actions, but those of others — which is something I don’t ever want to do. My aim when expressing thoughts in the open is, a, to make sure there is a point to whatever I say and it is worth the reader’s time and b, that I have thought through what I am saying before I say it, while adhering to my own received values.

        This actually is a good case in point — throughout his career people have slammed Srinath as an ordinary medium pacer, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to correct the record, even to the extent of repeatedly retailing the words of several top international batsmen who have said Srinath is the hardest fast bowler they played against. (Also Rahul Dravid, who said he found facing a steamed up Srinath in the nets tougher than most international bowlers in a Test). I rate “fast” vs “medium” the way it is supposed to work: If you are 145 and above as often as you want to be you are fast; if you are 135-138 tops in default setting, you are medium. Period. (In passing, I think Ngidi is fast, actually — the next Test might show you a better picture; here I think everyone barring Rabada, and for a brief while Morkel, bowled within themselves figuring that on this track there was no point to expending too much energy).

        Anyway. Cheers. (Oh, and no offense taken).

    • Overdoing it a bit to make a point that might otherwise be valid? When time permits, do a search for the fastest recorded deliveries in cricket. Might prove interesting.

      As to the “self-flagellation”, none of that. If at all you are following my commentary, I call the good things we do as we do it. And yes, the things that I think are not so good, I call that too. Never believed the job of a reporter is to be a cheerleader. I get “My country right or wrong” quoted at me a lot; that is an incomplete sentence, the full thing is “My country right or wrong, when right to be kept right, when wrong to be put right.”

      To move your argument from the general to the specific — where did I ever say Shami and the others don’t have good seam position? Question: If you were watching, did you see anyone actually move the ball both ways? Barring Bhuvi in Newlands? Not like movement is not on offer — it is. So what is the point of this “seam position”?

      Also, I didn’t say Shami is not a Test bowler, I said in overseas conditions, he is not a top pick. Because his lack of inches takes bounce out of the equation pretty much, unless he bangs it in short, which is not a big problem for Proteas, Aus and England. If the conditions aid natural swing and reverse, I’d pick him every time. But if your idea of being a reporter is I have to talk up Shami’s game, or whoever’s, irrespective of conditions and opposition, you are on the wrong blog, sorry. (PS: Before Test 1 I picked Ishant for the lineup. Took a Test for wisdom to dawn, and Ishant proved my point for me in the first innings. So maybe I am just calling what I think, within my limitations, only just not being the rah-rah cheerleader you seem to expect me to be?)

      • Hah, don’t take that shortcut! Would’ve thought you knew me better than to think I want you to be some nationalist about the seam bowlers lol.

        “If at all you are following my commentary”


        “where did I ever say Shami and the others don’t have good seam position?”

        What does “I use the descriptor loosely” mean?

  3. For the love of all that’s holy, unpin that fucking tweet with the horrendous face. Have pity on those of us who don’t use the app.

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