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South Africa v India, 1st Test, Jo'burg, 1st day

'It wasn't easy to bat at all' - Chappell

Dileep Premachandran at Johannesburg

December 15, 2006

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On a two-faced pitch Laxman has trouble with a lifter © Getty Images
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The late loss of VVS Laxman's wicket made the scoreboard a less appealing prospect for the Indians, but Greg Chappell, the coach, was satisfied with the application that most of his batsmen showed on a surface that gave enough encouragement to the pace bowlers.

"I thought all the middle-order batsmen batted well and fought it out, given the conditions and the nature of the surface," said Chappell, speaking to the media after the day's play. "It wasn't easy to bat at all. It's not a wicket where you could say you were 'in' at any stage. Hopefully, there will be more sunshine tomorrow, and we can continue from here and bat better."

The decision to bat, despite the damp pitch, was Rahul Dravid's, and Chappell supported it. "It was a courageous decision to bat first," he said. "But as a team, we always look to bat first. This appears a dry track, and we wanted to take the initiative because batting last will be very difficult here."

Jacques Kallis, who sent back both Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, was delighted with his nine-over spell, and said that it had been pretty much a typical Wanderers pitch. "There was a little bit in the wicket, and you just needed to put the ball in the right areas. You always expect it to play a little up and down. If anything, what was different was the lack of pace. It was very slow. If you get in and see off the new ball, it's usually a good scoring ground."

He was confident that South Africa could wrap up the Indian innings quickly and then set up the game with the bat. "We would like to cash in batting during our first innings, and put them under pressure," he said. "Normally, days two and three are the best batting days on this ground, hopefully the track will get a little quicker too."

South Africa might well be without Dale Steyn for that second day, after he pulled up with a recurrence of a quadriceps strain after bowling the first ball of his 11th over. "He had a Grade I strain in his left thigh some three weeks back," said Shane Jabaar, the team physio. "He has been receiving treatment and bowling in the nets for the last one week, but in a Test match, there is an increased ten percent intensity in bowling.

"He felt very mild pain and left the field as a precaution, which was good. We'll see how it responds in the morning, and see if he can come back for the first innings, or whether we should get him ready for the second innings."

They might need him too, on a pitch that Chappell reckons will grow increasingly bowler-friendly. "I think the bowlers will dominate this game," he said. "This could turn out to be a low-scoring Test. The odd batsman might get stuck in, but generally, the bowlers will have the upper hand. We have no target as such, but 350 is usually what we aim for in a Test match batting first."

Even if they get within a 100 runs of that stated target, it will be an achievement in itself. After the limp surrender of the one-day series, this was a day to show some fight. And though no man lasted the distance, there was some true grit on display. What price a Ganguly epic on day two?

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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