South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day December 16, 2010

No warm-up leaves India's welcome cold

India may not admit it, but their decision to go into a tough series in alien conditions without any warm-up games may have fuelled the disastrous start in Centurion

South Africa makes you feel welcome in many ways. At the OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, there's a big portrait of Nelson Mandela with the football World Cup. You check in at the hotel, and they say Ulwamkelo (Welcome in Xhosa). The Ndebele say Siyaalemukela, the Sotho say Kamogelo. The Indian cricket team get a grand reception, the best training facilities and a South African to coach them. However, come match day, India would have been kidding themselves to expect a welcome too different to what they got.

Once the ground was dried and the toss was won, out charged Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, with the holiday crowd (celebrating, ironically the Day of Reconciliation) behind them. A brief hug was exchanged as they decided their ends, and then came pace and fire. Bouncer after bouncer followed from Morkel's arm, and the crowd bayed for blood. They sang for Morkel, they chanted for Steyn, and the resultant symphony - although joyful for Test-cricket lovers - wasn't quite to India's liking. The best new-ball combination in the world, Steyn and Morkel complemented each other with hostility and with swing. If India were expecting anything different, they were kidding themselves.

Yes the pitch was damp, and the ball seamed and nipped around. Harbhajan Singh later said a few stopped too. However, except for Rahul Dravid's dismissal, none seemed a direct consequence of a wet pitch. Virender Sehwag didn't last long enough to let the dampness have any indirect consequence on him, and Gautam Gambhir was worked over by Morkel.

India knew what they were getting into, they were mentally prepared, they tried to simulate what they would be facing by pulling the big players out of meaningless ODIs and sending them here early, but no amount of net sessions, no amount of video analysis, no amount of camp days can substitute for time in the middle. In the first place, it was ridiculous that the coach had to beg and plead to get to South Africa early for the camp. India were originally scheduled to have just two days of practice - which is the amount of time some members of the squad eventually got - and turn up for their biggest test as the world's No. 1 side. Two days to acclimatise to bouncier, seamier pitches, and thinner air. Go figure.

The result, though a bit surprising and spectacular, was not entirely shocking. This, after all, is a side that last played out of the subcontinent in March 2009. The first ball Sehwag touched on this tour moved a bit more than his body has become used to in the last 15 subcontinent Tests. And South Africa were ready with a third man not quite at the boundary. Gambhir was not given anything full by Morkel, who had got him twice in one day in Nagpur. He scratched and he fought, but he couldn't last, edging one of the rare length balls.

In 2009, India got away without a warm-up game in New Zealand because the pitches there held little of the terror of old, and Chris Martin and Iain O'Brien - no disrespect to them - aren't quite Steyn and Morkel. And as feared, after that series win, this has become a bit of a trend. While others were preparing for the World Twenty20 in the West Indies, the Indian players were busy playing Twenty20 cricket in the IPL. The team somehow eked out a warm-up game in Sri Lanka but then lost the first Test there, which probably undermined team management's case for practice games on future assignments.

MS Dhoni and Gary Kirsten - who Sourav Ganguly thinks should have pressed for one warm-up game at least - have been making positive noises, saying they are trying to do the best with whatever preparation time they have got. Harbhajan went a step further. "I don't think the warm-up game would have made any difference," he said. "We are actually playing on a very different wicket, I mean a wet wicket where the ball is seaming and nipping. The warm-up game would have been on a perfect cricketing wicket. You can't complain about wickets, but we need to make sure we come back into the game."

One would have thought criticism from former greats for India's Australia tour itinerary in 2007-08, which included just one warm-up game before the first Test, would have had some impact, especially considering their loss in Melbourne. Ridiculously, though, it has become a luxury to get that one warm-up game now. India only have to look to the other series in the Southern Hemisphere where England have played four warm-up games and three Tests. Even their tour got off to a poor start, but they knew they had done all they could do to prepare for it. That cannot be said of India.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sandeep on December 19, 2010, 16:20 GMT

    Now what people have to tell after India's secong innings performance. they have shown that they are not flat track bully like all these people is telling. This is the beauty of cricket. They had one bad day but you have to consider the conditions also. If India got toss and fielded maybe the picture must have changed, our bowlers also have done well.We have seen how frustrating and clueless when Shehwag and Gambir started 2nd innings, Smith and company was totally clueless. We know SA will win tommorow but atleast India had shown character and deserves respect for that.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 18:23 GMT

    When you swing the ball back in its a new world, Amir exploited every single weakness in English and Aussie batsmen in the last Aussie summer and the English summer and with pace.

    Johnson just needs to bowl, he gets too technical with stuff, just bowl mate.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 18:00 GMT

    Lets not do this shall we, that they had no warm up of any sort, if that was the case, I did not hear that from you before the test, you were too busy talking about how Sehwag flayed Steyn.

    Stop the whining, they went their, practiced on pitches, with new tactics, stand up and give it up to the two bowlers, and to the fact that India or any batting line up will struggle when really good bowlers get it right. There

  • Agus on December 17, 2010, 13:51 GMT

    Guys! We all know now that what India is capable of? If any team want to be a No. 1 means they have to perform well in any kind of pitches, Amla and Kallis can perform in any kind of pitches, so that we can call them well performer, I don't like to write more about others who called themselves match performer or winners

  • Shruti on December 17, 2010, 13:50 GMT

    Gambhir,Raina and Unadkat should be repalced by Vijay,Pujara and Zaheer at Durban .Not that the three replacements are Greenidge,Chanderpaul and Akram but just that Innings defeat, which looks imminent at Centurion, can be avoided at Durban .As for the Indian fans,when the writing is on the wall,they choose to turn their backs instead of reading it!

  • Praful on December 17, 2010, 12:35 GMT

    Nice article Sidhartha especially the IPL part saying "While others were preparing for the World Twenty20 in the West Indies, the Indian players were busy playing Twenty20 cricket in the IPL". IPL is the worst thing happened to Indian cricket but best to BCCI.

  • Abhinav on December 17, 2010, 11:41 GMT

    .hope u will turn the tables in this ongiong test match,,,v r wid u guys,,,u can fight out for a draw,,who knows a miracle like eden gardens 9 years back can strike proteas this time...and india can win this game...this was just a matter of who won the toss...but that vl b irrelevant...i m sure with pitch easing out now...indian batting line up will show the same fight and desire as they showed up in new zealand and will draw this match...and as i said...very few will think india winning...very optimistic i am...but v indians r lyk dat.....and i must tell u CHAITANYA......even very few knew about ISHANT when he travelled to AUS and struck ponting every time,,,who knows unadkat can do lyk dat...and Proteas dnt fear the pace man...they have guys like morkel and steyn consistently giving them the share of pace in nets,,,they have to be beaten up with swing...lets hope and back up unadkat rather than demoralising the guy...hopefully he will do well..

  • D on December 17, 2010, 11:07 GMT

    Actually BCCI preferred playing 5 "important ODI's" vs New Zealand than to focus on preparing for what looks to be a a tour from hell but which is also a reality check. Heads will roll at the end of the tour a few retirements are possible!!

  • Harmon on December 17, 2010, 11:00 GMT

    Hey all Indian fans, your fundamental problem is that you chaps are so weak mentally. Just a day bad in the office and most of you have started giving up? Bear in mind that the conditions must have been very bad on day 1 after so much rain. Its a pity Zaheer Khan is injured. But still, as a fan, the least you could do is to give unflinching support to your team. Look at WACA. 1 bad day, 1 good day for Aus. That is Test Cricket. Even if India lose this test, they still have 2 more to play. Don be over critical. Have faith, have patience.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 10:43 GMT

    1st test out of subcontinent after March 2009.....! this explains everything, the undeserved no.1 position, the poweful cash spinning board, the demolition in centurian, the no over 40 avg of any of the greats in SA and so on! now let smith and alviro (and amla's frm who is the best in current batters of the world, hasnt even started)) u can win be truly no.1 by not winning a grand slam (aus in aus or SA in SA),, and with only 2 worldclass players, tendulkar (over stressed by expectations) and zaheer, always injured),,, so lets wait for som eplaccid pitch in SA

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