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Sanjay Manjrekar

India's batsmen need to develop South African instincts

They've not had much time to adjust yet, but they need to swap their Indian mindsets for local ones

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
Dhawan will have known about the extra bounce but he still wasn't able to cope with it  •  BCCI

Dhawan will have known about the extra bounce but he still wasn't able to cope with it  •  BCCI

When India were set 208 runs to win the first Test, with a batsman like Virat Kohli in the team, I thought their chances of winning the match were pretty high - 70% or so.
I think now that India may not get such a great chance to win a Test for the rest of the series, because their sprinkling of overseas Test wins have mostly come on lively pitches. (When I say overseas, I mean South Africa, Australia, England and New Zealand.)
Lively pitches have allowed Indian bowlers to be more potent, and their batting, which invariably had three world-class batsmen, would still get enough runs on such pitches. That's how India were able to get their act together with both bat and ball to win the few overseas Tests they have won. I don't remember many such wins when the pitch has been flat.
And there is a good chance that the pitches for the rest of the series will get better for batting. Because of the rain on day three, the Newlands pitch was quite unique: it had lateral movement on all four days of the Test.
This Indian team, by the way, is a bit different from the ones that have toured South Africa before. It's a team where the bowling is potentially the stronger suit, and this was evident as early as the first Test in how the bowlers picked their game up quickly in the second innings after allowing South Africa to score 286 in the first.
In the second innings, the Indian bowlers quickly picked up the South African bowling language, especially Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. Bumrah, in fact, showed he had grasped learnings that usually take a couple of tours to sink in for other bowlers. It was brilliant to see how he kept it simple in the second innings by bowling outside the off without trying anything, practising patience, just like the South African fast bowlers do. Shami, well, he attacked the stumps with more control.
In comparison, the Indian batsmen could not come to terms with the pitch, and may not be able to do so even when the second Test begins.
When you are hitting the ball, it is largely an instinctive thing, so despite all the muttering under your breath that you need to be ready for the extra bounce, your instincts take over and spoil your best plans
Having said that, one must understand that adjustment to higher bounce is easier for bowlers than for batsmen. While bowlers can be effective quicker in different conditions by some target bowling in the nets and proper planning in the head - and I have confirmed this with some international bowlers - for batsmen, it's not that simple.
At the crucial moment when you are hitting or defending the ball, it is largely an instinctive thing. So despite all the muttering under your breath that you need to be ready for the extra bounce as the bowler runs in, your instincts still take over to spoil your best plans.
To make matters worse, the Newlands pitch was an exception even by South African standards - along with pace and bounce, it had significant sideways movement too, a fact Faf du Plessis acknowledged in the post-match interview.
That is why being critical of India's batting at this early stage of the tour would be unfair. Unless you are a great batsman it's impossible to change your instincts so swiftly, after almost three years of batting in flat, low-bounce conditions. India landed in South Africa just eight days before the first Test.
Hopefully one day India will arrive in South Africa a month or more in advance, so that by the time they play their first Test innings their instincts are South African and not Indian.
Shikhar Dhawan's wicket in the second innings was a perfect example of Indian instincts being the reason for his downfall. Two weeks later, to that same ball which was aimed into his body, his bat position would instinctively be six to eight inches higher than it was.
The ball was a bit too high when it made contact with his bat and Dhawan struggled to keep it down. Surely he would have known that the ball would bounce higher in South Africa, but his instincts were not in sync with his mind. He wasn't fending the ball, as some might think; he was just trying to roll his bat over the ball and his head was still in a pretty good position, which is not the case when someone is actually fending.
Great batsmen adjust quicker. I had a close realisation of this when we went to Australia and South Africa in the early '90s. Sachin Tendulkar developed South African instincts in a week, while the rest of us took much longer. That is why I thought India had such a good chance of chasing 208, because in Kohli they have that great batsman.
I do not expect a sea change in the way India bat in the second Test. If the pitch miraculously plays out like an Indian pitch, the batsmen should be okay, but if it does not, we have to expect only a marginal improvement in the way they adjust to the extra bounce.
Maybe for this reason the batsmen who played at Newlands could be given another chance, so that they can use their experience from the first Test to do better in the second. But we have seen Kohli enough as captain to know that he thinks radically differently from previous Indian captains as far as team selection goes. He is a massive believer in current form, which means he also attaches a lot of importance to recent failures, so don't be surprised if a couple of batsmen from the first Test get the axe.
I was surprised by the way M Vijay batted at Newlands. He was one of India's successes on their last overseas leg of Test cricket, and the main reason for his consistency in varying foreign conditions was that that he left a lot of balls outside the off stump. For some reason, he wasn't doing that in Cape Town. You might see him correct that in the second Test. That is, if he plays.
Cheteshwar Pujara piles up mountains of runs in home conditions, but if you remember, he lost his place in the playing XI twice in India's last overseas phase, so his failure in the first Test should not come as a shock. He is a wonderful, gritty player who will always be up for a fight, but for a defensive player his defence in overseas conditions is not very good, and hence his struggles overseas.
To succeed against South Africa and to beat them at home, you need attacking batsmen who can rattle the opposition, and we saw that happen in the little phase when Hardik Pandya got going in the first innings.
Australia have breached the South African fortress more than any other team and it is attacking batsmen who have invariably led the winning charge for them, batsmen like Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, David Warner and Matthew Hayden.
It is for this reason that I would still play Rohit Sharma in the second Test - that is, if the pitch looks decidedly better than the Newlands one and the ball is not likely to deviate too much off the pitch.
Then, in Kohli, Rohit and Pandya, India have three attacking batsmen who can put South Africa off their game, when that Kookaburra ball gets a bit soft. The bowling, for a change, does not need much addressing.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar