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

Harbhajan rues losing crucial toss

Harbhajan Singh says his team was well-prepared for the series, but not for the damp pitch where the toss was vital, where the ball seamed and nipped around, while some stopped on the batsmen. He did not think a warm-up game would have made any difference because it wouldn't have prepared them for what they received at the SuperSport Park where they lost nine wickets on a day in which four-and-a-half hours were lost to rain. He also believed his side could get South Africa out cheaply, and make up for their batting failure in the second innings. It was that kind of a day.

To be fair to Harbahjan, he never suggested it was a designer pitch, and also gave credit where it was due. "We were quite prepared to play on a good track, but unfortunately with the rain and stuff it was quite a damp wicket," he said. "The toss was very crucial to this match. We lost the toss. They bowled well in the given conditions, and they got the rewards. If we had won the toss, I think we would have done the same thing. We would have bowled first, then who knows what would have happened."

The bad news for India is that Harbhajan doesn't expect similar assistance from the pitch later on in the Test. "I don't know how long it will help the seamers," he said. "But definitely there is a lot of movement after pitching, swinging and cutting both ways, because it is damp. If we get the sun tomorrow, obviously it will play a lot better than it did today. That's what I think. I could be wrong.

"We are playing on a wet wicket where the ball is seaming or nipping. A 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."

Harbhajan put up a fight with the bat, scoring 27 off 25 balls, and adding 39 runs for the seventh wicket with MS Dhoni, which could yet prove to be crucial, but was disappointed at how he got out. Taking the third run, Harbhajan's bat got stuck in the ground as he tried to slide it into the crease, and a smart back-flick from Mark Boucher converted a wide throw into a run-out.

"If the ball was in my area, I was looking to hit, not just survive," he said. "I was there to get runs, not to kill time. It's important to get as many as you can in the first innings. It will make an impact when you go to bowl. If you score 150 or 200, whatever you get is good enough. We will go out and give our best shot.

"Very disappointed the way I got out. My bat got stuck and I got run out. I was batting really well, I was hitting the ball really well. Unfortunately I couldn't score too many runs. I hope in the next innings I don't even have to bat. Hopefully the batsmen will score a lot of runs."

Harbhajan called on the spirit of this team that has bailed them out of more than a few crisis situations in recent times. "Obviously we had a bad day with the bat," he said. "It's not over yet. We have got to believe that we can go out and get their batsmen out. And once we go out to bat in the next innings, we will show what batting actually means.

"As I said, it is not over yet. We played one session badly, it doesn't mean we can't come back. We have shown enough number of times that we are a team that likes to be challenged. We are in a situation where we have to go out and give our best, and try to get them out, and make sure they don't go too far from us. Whatever has happened is gone, and I think we can make a match out of this."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo