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Pitch and South Africa unprepared for Test series

The Nagpur track may have taken the sheen off India’s win a bit, but that doesn’t hide the fact that batting, from both India & SA has been quite ordinary in this series, writes Aakash Chopra

Most teams celebrate if they stay unbeaten for 15 Tests and SA managed to stay unbeaten overseas for 15 series. This record in the era of ‘home dominance’ tells you how good they were for nearly a decade. But all good things eventually come to an end and their unbeaten run has ended in Nagpur. The secret to continue winning across the world is to either train your horses to succeed on all courses or pick different horses for different courses, and it felt for the first time that SA had come unprepared.


Castled: South Africa’s Faf du Plessis is bowled by India’s leg-spinner Amit Mishra at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur yesterday. Pic/AFP 

South Africa’s reign ends
On the other hand, India played its most trusted hand -- spin-ready pitches -- to end an almost decade-long drought against the Proteas. India played against SA five times in the last decade (both home and away) but never managed to win a series, and that’s why this victory will be a lot sweeter. In addition to that, this series was Kohli’s first series at home as a captain and he’s begun on a positive note. Once India preferred to prepare result-oriented pitches, winning the toss became critical and Kohli winning all three tosses made the job easier for his team.

Barring the pitch for the second Test in Bangalore, these were really tough conditions for batting. It’s been nine innings in this series without a single century and the match in Nagpur happened to be the first match in the history of Indian Test cricket in which not a single 50 was scored. Indian batting against spin is on a steady decline and it was visible in this series too, and it needs addressing moving forward.

While the Indian batsmen struggled against spin on these pitches, they somehow managed to score more than their opponents, and that was enough to give them a series triumph. In my humble opinion if it weren’t for SA’s inferior spin department, this score line could’ve read quite different.

Only two Indian batsmen (Vijay and Pujara) have looked assured in this Test series and it isn’t surprising that both of them don’t feature in India’s limited-overs team. Perhaps, there’s merit in developing more batsmen for the longer format and having a slightly different line-up for different formats.

It’s one thing to prepare pitches to suit your strengths and quite another to use them to your advantage, and that’s where Ashwin & Co should be credited for their efforts. Ashwin’s dream run has ensured that South Africa haven’t even managed to win a single session with the bat.

Jadeja impressive too
Jadeja has also made an impressive comeback. Also, the batting ability of Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra in these conditions gives much-needed depth to the Indian batting.

This article can’t be complete without addressing the raging debate about these pitches — are these pitches good for Test cricket? Well, I’d rather have three-day Tests than a five-day batting fest but in the ideal world, there shouldn’t be a need to choose, for good pitches will automatically produce quality cricket. But, unfortunately, pitch preparation isn’t perfect science and I’m sure the Indians also didn’t want the pitch in Nagpur to turn so much so soon.

While I was okay with the pitch in Mohali, the one in Nagpur took the sheen off India’s victory a bit.

But the pitch talk mustn’t hide the fact that batting, from both sides, has been quite ordinary in this series. The decline of Test match batting skills should worry the cricket world more than the nature of the 22 yards.

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