TELFORD VICE, Mohali
THIS was a strange game indeed, weirder even than the startling facts that India won by 108 runs with all four innings fitting snugly into 251.2 out of a possible 450 overs. Play could have lasted 30 hours. Instead, it was over in not quite 17-and-a-half.
Imran Tahir and Simon Harmer shared eight wickets to limit India’s lead to 217, but SA – chasing what would have been the highest total of the match – capitulated for 109, their fourth-lowest total since re-admission and the first time in 61 tests that they have lost inside three days. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja took 5/21.
Now for the oddities. SA’s most studious batsmen, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla, were bowled without offering a stroke. India lost no wickets in the first hour on Saturday and six in the second. Vernon Philander opened the batting in SA’s second innings, in which seam was seen for the first time in the 17th over.
Actually, there’s nothing strange about the latter. Which team wouldn’t throw three fine spinners into the fray first up on a surface that was less a cricket pitch and more a shallow grave for India’s old fears and insecurities – ghosts that came back to haunt them when they were faced with opponents who could do the unthinkable and beat them at home.
The same opponents had already beaten them at home in the Twenty20 and one-day series …
Can’t have that in the test series, too. So have this: a pitch as brittle as a chapati left in the sun on which none of the excellent batsmen in action – not even India’s champions – were able to venture within 20 runs of a century.
There are worrying signs beyond the boundary that India is regressing towards the closed society it used to be, a place not quite of this world. On this evidence its cricket is going back to that darkness, too.
Not to Virat Kohli, who gave pitches like this no less a responsibility than safeguarding the future of test cricket.
“I don’t think there’s any logic in making wickets that don’t give you a result,” India’s captain said. “If you ask how do we keep test cricket alive, you need to have wickets that will give you results.”
Not everything can be blamed on the pitch. Some of SA’s batsmen got out to strokes – or non-strokes in the case of Du Plessis in the first innings and Amla on Saturday – that would have earned the ire of a club captain.
“We could have applied ourselves better,” Amla said. “There were decisions we made while we were batting that were not the right decisions.”
SA have known for weeks what kind of pitch they would get, and Amla described his own dismissal as a “brain freeze”. Did they think themselves out of the game?
“There were quite a few dismissals from both teams from a lack of turn rather than excessive turn,” Amla said. “Sometimes those are the more difficult pitches to play on. There were errors in decision-making that cost us.”
The second test starts in Bangalore on Saturday. What can SA change before then?
“If the wicket’s the same, hopefully we don’t make the same mistakes,” Amla said.
The same? Bank on it.