Some pundits are calling it the game’s greatest draw. But considering the position MS Dhoni’s men were in on the final day of the opening Test against South Africa at Johannesburg, India would have liked to seal the deal and go one-up in the series.
The visitors had everything going for them with South Africa needing 320 runs and eight wickets in hand to chase a world record 458-run target. They also had a psychological edge with all-rounder Morne Morkel virtually ruled out of batting in the fourth innings after injuring his ankle while fielding on the third day.
For South Africa, a draw was a realistic goal. But the dangerous pair of Faf du Plessis (134) and AB de Villiers (103) made the record chase look very much possible. It was only after Du Plessis was run out that the hosts decided to abort their plan to go for a win. South Africa finished with 450-7 — eight runs short of victory.
One of the questions that arise after the first Test is India’s bowling in the second innings that allowed South Africa to come tantalisingly close to the target.
According to former India pacer Manoj Prabhakar, the Indian bowlers missed a golden opportunity to win an overseas Test after suffering eight straight losses abroad. “It could have been a crucial win for India, but our bowlers missed a golden opportunity to win the game. Even though we were lucky to escape with a draw, morally South Africa won the battle because they came so close to the target,” felt Prabhakar.
“You cannot win overseas with just three bowlers. You need at least four quality bowlers that can win matches. Our attack is pretty ordinary at the moment. We need a medium-pace all-rounder and not a spinning all-rounder,” added Prabhakar. Former India spinner and selector Venkatapathy Raju felt that the Kookaburra ball made the difference. “In India, we bowl with SG balls. The Kookaburra ones are slightly different to handle. You need some finer adjustments to succeed abroad. One needs experienced bowlers to use the Kookaburra balls. We did not get any practice matches before the Test series, so that also could have affected our bowlers,” said Raju.
Zaheer Khan gave away 135 runs in 34 overs while Ishant Sharma and Mohd Shami conceded 91 runs in 29 overs and 107 runs in 28 overs respectively in the second innings.
Anshuman Gaekwad, the former India coach, said Indian bowlers got carried away. “Most of the runs came square of the wicket. What was required is bowling a stump-to-stump line. We got carried away with the extra bounce and pace. The bowlers tried harder when they were being hit all over,” he said.
R Ashwin, who went wicketless in both innings, was another big let down for Team India. Raju and Prabhakar reckoned Ashwin, who is on his second Test tour, has to step up his game overseas. “Ashwin has failed to deliver. He has to start showing results,” said Prabhakar. Raju concluded: “Ashwin has to learn to be patient. He has to identify his length early. Once he gets it right, wickets will start coming. He needs to bowl better.”