Poor batting, good bowling cost SA more than Mohali pitch

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Mohali

ENOUGH already with all this bitching about the pitch on which India beat SA inside three days in the first test in Mohali.

Besides, the visitors know the first thing the Indians did after the last wicket fell was roll up that surface and pack it off to Bangalore for the second test, which starts on Saturday.

And once that game is done the same crumbling, tattered, parched 22 yards of crazy paving will be despatched forthwith to Nagpur, and then to Delhi … Metaphorically, at least.

Welcome to India, Saffers, and get used to the skewed sensibilities. But remember that you are not above tilting the balance in your favour, often to an alarming degree, when Asian teams come to town.

Something else the visitors can do nothing about is the lack of experience of test cricket in India peculiar to this squad, a factor that goes beyond the pitch to encompass the crowds, the media and the general clamour around anything and everything cricket.

Coach Russell Domingo is on his maiden passage to India, and of the XI who did duty in the first test only Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn had played a test in this country before Mohali.

Their experience added up to 16 tests in India, and that was before Steyn’s five games were taken out of the equation with a groin strain.

“Possibly they didn’t know how the wicket would be, how much it would turn, and how many balls would go straight on; we had that advantage,” left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who took 5/21 in the second innings, said.

So, best Hashim Amla and his men stick to controlling the controllables. Decision-making with the bat must be at the top of that list.

Only six of the 20 SA wickets that fell in Mohali could be ascribed conclusively to bowler beating batsman – take a bow Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir, who both earned that accolade in the first and second innings.

For the rest, poor stroke selection or non-selection, other shades of tentativeness, playing against the turn and faulty footwork spelt dismissal.

Teams in which two thirds of the batsmen play a significant role in their own demise are going to be beaten more often than not.

SA are not that team. The Mohali mauling was just their fourth loss in their last 30 tests stretching back to March 2012 and their fifth defeat in the 30 tests they have played on the road since July 2008. They are not No. 1 for nothing.

Which brings us to other side of the coin: India’s performance, particularly by their bowlers.

“It wasn’t as if we just turned up and bowled and got wickets; we all bowled well,” Jadeja said. “It takes effort and everybody in the team put in that effort.

“We took the catches and scored the runs. Everybody played his part. In a low-scoring match these contributions go a long way.”

Damn straight. Conditions bent to the point of being unfair is one thing. Using them well is distinctly another.

If we look past the pitch and ignore the Indians’ comically bumptious defence of it, we will see that the team that played better cricket won the first test.

SA, champion team that they are, will know this. And they should know how to fix their problems.

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