India’s reputation of world’s best Test side took a major hit on Monday as South Africa thrashed the visitors by 72 runs in the first Test on Monday to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series. Chasing a low and tricky total of 208 on the green Cape Town strip, Virat Kohli’s men were skittled out for 135 on the day four at Newlands. Unfortunately, India's defeat on a seam-friendly track in Cape Town underlined the doubts over the ability of the number one ranked Test nation to win in overseas conditions.
Proteas pacer Vernon Philander bowled a sensation spell of fast bowling and picked up his career-best of 6/42 in the second innings that triggered the collapse of the visiting side. Philander took three wickets in four balls to end the game and seal the victory in favour of the hosts.
In this piece, we take a look some of the factors which became the talking point after India lost the ground and their status at Newlands:-
Before the start of the first Test, all the cricket fans and experts thought skipper Kohli will go with the first-choice pair of Murali Vijay and KL Rahul in the series opener in Cape Town. But, Dhawan’s recovery post his ankle injury made him an automatic choice for the opening slot considering his recent form in the limited-overs format.
However, the decision to rest Rahul and include Dhawan came under the scanner after the attacking left-hander failed in both the innings of the first Test. Especially, the manner in which the Delhi-born batsman has got out has raised quite a few eyebrows over his batting technique in the longer format. Keeping the South African conditions in mind, Rahul will be a better choice on the seam-friendly tracks.
Failure of 'big names'
Before the start of the series, everyone was tagging the three-match rubber as the contest between the heavyweights where India’s much-vaunted batting line-up will be tested by the world’s most potent fast bowling attack. The reputation of big names like – Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma were at stake. But, surprisingly none of them were able to carry their rich-vein of form from the sub-continent conditions to the African safari.
The run-machine Kohli managed a total of 33 in both innings of the Cape Town Test, whereas, India’s highest run-getter in Test cricket in 2017 – Pujara scored a total of 30 in the match. The failure of the big guns was one of the crucial factors why India failed to post a decent total in the first Test.
Exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane
The decision of Indian team management to go with Rohit Sharma instead of Ajinkya Rahane is one of the biggest points of debate in the first Test. On basis of his splendid performances in the limited-overs format, Rohit was given the nod ahead of Rahane who has a very good record while playing in whites in the overseas conditions. However, Rahane has been out of form and did not have the best of series against the visiting Sri Lankan team in December which resulted in his ouster from the playing eleven. But Rohit too failed to make any significant contribution with the bat and was dismissed for 11 in the first innings and 10 in the second.
Rohit’s failure has once again fuelled the debate over Kohli’s selection and his decision to exclude a batsman (Rahane) who boasts one of the best averages while playing on the foreign soil.
Inability to tackle quality ‘fast bowling’
Vernon Philander's career-best figures in India's second innings and a well-supported act by Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada were the highlights of the first Test for the hosts. Despite being ranked number one in the world in the traditional format, India still have a long way to go shed the tag of ‘poor travellers’ while playing in the away conditions. Coming back after registering nine straight series wins, Kohli’s men seemed to be on a rampage especially in Test cricket. But, the other fact is that - only one of those series victories of Team India have come outside Asia and that is too against a depleted and inexperienced West Indies side.
However, the way India surrendered against the probing South African attack has once again raised quite a few questions about the skill and acumen of the famed batting line-up.
Before the start of the second Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion on January 13, India need to rectify these loopholes if they want to make some contest out of the three-match series