India v South Africa, 1st Test, Nagpur, 4th day February 9, 2010

No crumbs of comfort for India

S Aga
The roots of this debacle go back to some frankly ludicrous selection. Having made such a pig's ear of picking the 15, the selectors deserve every bit of criticism that will come their way over the coming days

Where to from here? This wasn't a liberally grassed pitch like the one at Motera in April 2008. This was low and slow, with the ball turning appreciably right from the opening day. And India still got pulped. Apart from a session where the genius of Virender Sehwag and the growing confidence of S Badrinath saw them frustrate South Africa, they were second-best in every single session. Dale Steyn bowled wonderfully well, but both Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell can do better. Paul Harris took more wickets than India's spinners while bowling 19 maiden overs. Harbhajan Singh managed one. If you're looking for crumbs of comfort, don't bother. The table was wiped clean.

Once Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed, it was almost a given that the match wouldn't go into a fifth day. He had made 100 of the 168 added while he was at the crease. And though the tail didn't resemble a Doberman's as in the first innings, neither Harbhajan or Zaheer Khan batted as though there was a game to be saved. When you swing at every ball, sooner or later you miss. And Steyn and friends were too good not to hit.

The roots of this debacle go back to some frankly ludicrous selection. Perhaps the selectors know something we don't. Otherwise, it will be a bit of an ordeal to explain why Virat Kohli, the best young batsman in the country, found no place in the squad despite his recent successes in the one-day game. Four fast bowlers were called up when India had no intention of diverting from their two-seamer-two-spinner strategy. One of the selectors told Ravi Shastri that Abhimanyu Mithun was picked because they "wanted to have a look at him."

He could have been invited to bowl in the nets without being part of the squad. Instead, they went for a squad with six batsmen, despite Laxman carrying an injury that made him extremely doubtful from the outset. His last-minute replacement Rohit Sharma, whose pre-game injury paved the way for Wriddhiman Saha's bizarre debut, had done nothing in recent times to warrant being first reserve. Having made such a pig's ear of picking the 15, the selectors deserve every bit of criticism that will come their way over the coming days.

As MS Dhoni admitted afterwards, South Africa's side has far better balance because of Jacques Kallis. India can shed tears over the disappearance of Irfan Pathan, but for the moment they must mix and match as best they can

What can now be done to salvage the situation? This series was shoehorned into the calendar so that the No.1 ranking that was the reward for home success against Sri Lanka could be consolidated. Instead, India face the prospect of holding on to top spot for even less time than South Africa did in 2002 when Australia were the best team in the world by the width of the Indian Ocean.

Laxman's return will lend solidity to the batting, but it's the bowling that needs most attention. Sehwag's jibe about the Bangladesh bowlers a month ago could come back to haunt India because they never looked like dismissing South Africa once, forget twice. Zaheer was impressive in spurts, while Ishant faded after a decent start. The spinners bowled 99 overs for two wickets. Amit Mishra beat the bat countless times, but too often the ball turned too much to take the edge.

There's only so much tinkering that can be done with the players available. Sreesanth's outswing offers an attractive option, one that has discomfited South Africa in the past, but he hasn't played competitive cricket in more than a month. Harbhajan's record at the Eden Gardens - he has 38 wickets from six Tests, including nine against South Africa in 2004 - should keep him in the side, and the presence of three left-handers in South Africa's top six means Pragyan Ojha is unlikely to be risked.

As MS Dhoni admitted afterwards, South Africa's side has far better balance because of Jacques Kallis. India can shed tears over the disappearance of Irfan Pathan, but for the moment they must mix and match as best they can. Badrinath has probably done enough to keep his place, but he'll drop down to No.6 when Laxman returns. If the hand injury doesn't heal quickly enough, then it should be Dinesh Karthik that takes Laxman's place. Any man who can handle Steyn, Ntini and Pollock at Newlands is a better bet than a debutant.

Having been thrashed out of sight here, India have finally selected a proper Test squad. But with Steyn in full cry, troubling batsmen with both conventional and reverse swing, it remains to be seen whether that'll be enough. "Will they be taking a rake to the pitch?" asked Graeme Smith with a laugh when he received a query about Eden Gardens. If India lose the toss again, it might not be enough.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sanjay on February 11, 2010, 23:57 GMT

    Indian selectors always amuse me. Flops like jagdale and hirwani decide that double centurians like Kaif are not good ;not even MUNAF

  • R on February 11, 2010, 19:04 GMT

    Look at Harbhajan - He again made same statement "You can't really take five wickets every day". :))…he made same statement during past interviews….lol….

    He should be asked to sit out. We can add one more seamier. Part time bowlers can get more wickets then him.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2010, 18:52 GMT

    Winning the Toss is becoming a huge factor in who wins....thinking heads need to come up with a solution for this...

  • Sunny on February 11, 2010, 18:14 GMT

    Hello folks,

    I have read your comments and felling like sharing mine with you. Indian team 's biggest problem is they can't play under pressure. Secondly, we don't have balanced team as compared to South Africans, Aus or NZ. We have strong batting line, but we lack in fielding (specially when bowlers perform well and fielders missed the catches), and bowlers get frustrated. Most importantly, we don't have even have a one top quality bowler available (either fast, seamer, or top spinner), not even one good all rounder. If we compare other teams on these basis, Aus. SA, NZ, PAK, and Sri has good bowlers, as well as one all rounders. Who cares about the first ranking sport, we rather start preparing for World cup now and start learning from these lessons.

    If we analyze last match, first, we missed two good catches one at slip, the other one behind for Alma at 62 when Harbajan was trying hard and making variations in order to get wicket. Secondly, we are missing Dravid (DEEWAR wall

  • Kobus on February 11, 2010, 17:57 GMT

    I would have to agree with cheechman in that the South African batting line-up is not what it was against spin a few years ago. They have learned to apply themselves and now play spin decently. Graeme Swann bowled out of his skin and had a great tour of SA- that happens from time to time. India seem to be hedging everything on a pitch prepared for them and one returning batsman, which smacks of a bit of panic. In response to paramthegreat, Harris might not be Shane Warne but he is consistent and does exactly what is expected of him- in that regard he was superb in the first Test. I take it your are referring to Roelof van der Merwe, who has now proven himself in the shorter version but that is not Test Cricket- he certainly is more attacking but unproven- the team needs Harris to do what he does because his economy opens up opportunities for the quicks. It is not always necessary for a spinner to be a big turner with loads of variations.

  • Andre on February 11, 2010, 17:32 GMT

    Don't waste time arguing with guys like Hutchinson, that's all they want.It is better to support your team and give positive criticism team and hope they play better, instead of hoping the opposition play worse. Thats what I wish for any team that I support in any sport.

  • Tequila on February 11, 2010, 16:32 GMT

    @GK16: Completely agree with you.

    @All who are saying Bhajji and Amit Mishra should be dropped: Well, I feel they didnt bowl that badly. In my opinion, they bowled quite well on second day but were unlucky and poor field placement didnt help either. But obviously, thats my personal opinion.

    @ paramthegreat: Agree with you. Paul Harris persisted with negative line (even with Zaheer and Bhajji at crease!) But I guess thats the role for him. He has to tie up one end while fast bowlers take wickets from the other. He took 4 wickets: 2 of which were pure luck (Sachin and Dhoni (1st innings)) M Vijay got out playing a stupid shot after being bogged down by negative bowling. So yes, he played his role perfectly: tying up one end and frustrating batsmen.

    Just hoping India bounces back in the second test. :)

  • Andrea Francesco on February 11, 2010, 16:29 GMT

    I would not like to get into a discussion here but Hutchinson, I feel you are being narrow minded if you think the only way India can win is by having Laxman and winning the toss and batting first. I also think calling the South African batting line up average against spin is also being a bit short sighted. Yes the Proteas did have their problems against Swann, but you also have to look at the series at how SA were able to put on big scores, more than England. Your disregard to the batting line up is silly. Take a look at the leading run scorers in test cricket for 2010, although short, we have several of our batsman up there. The last few wickets in the 1st innings were because SA were trying to be aggressive, if we were not in such commanding position they would have batted more conservatively and for longer. It was only because with two spinners on a turning wicket, India were unable to take 11 wickets. All I say is dismiss SA with your peril, this team is stronger and better.

  • Waseem on February 11, 2010, 16:28 GMT

    Someone explain this to me.

    In WACA, they proudly said it was the world's fastest pitch. They said it would swing from ball one. And it did.

    Why not this? Come to India. We got the world's most turning pitch. It would turn square from ball one.

    Aren't spinners and seamers in the same boat? If one can get a pitch to his liking, the other should too. And the batsmen should stop crying out and play the turning ball. This is pure discrimination.

    ICC. Read this one.

    The Mumbai test where it turned is in more people's mind than some test on a dustbowl. Isnt that what you want? People to love this game, see it, remember it? Time you gave the go ahead sign for our own breed of pitches.

    Or else RIP Test cricket.

  • Alok on February 11, 2010, 14:53 GMT

    If Laxman is in & India wins the Toss & Bats first,India will surely win.The reason they can't collapse now & South Africa will surely surrender to batting in 4th innings,they were denied batting in 3rd innings at Nagpur because of India's collapse in 1st innings.They are a ordinary batting team against spinners e.g recently Swann troubled them so much.Also they should not cry if they get a Turner at Kolkatta because they also made a Superfast pitch in last test vs England to level series.Also Harbhajan should be rested in future to atleast Try Ramesh Powar or R Ashwin in Test Squad ,both of them are decent Bats

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