Clayton Murzello: India's fast train to success
Skipper Virat Kohli's outstanding pace attack will be more envied if Johannesburg-like victories are repeated on tours to England and Oz
Bhuvneshwar Kumar (left) celebrates the dismissal of SA batsman AB de Villiers with skipper Virat Kohli and KL Rahul during the Jo'burg Test last week. Pic/AFP
India deserved all the accolades they received for winning the third and final Test against South Africa in Johannesburg on a brute of a wicket. If we see more of such horror strips, the International Cricket Council could consider introducing a bravery section to their annual awards. That the Indians claimed 60 wickets in three Tests proves that the series was far more closely fought than the 2-1 series scoreline suggests.
Each of the three games was riveting and, save the pitch in the final Test at the Wanderers, five-day cricket was well-endorsed at a time when Test cricket's popularity and future is questioned, challenged and dissected. Like in every series, there are aspects to rue and most pundits felt the Indian think-tank erred in leaving Ajinkya Rahane out of the side for the first two Tests. Rahane added yeast to the rue factor as it were, by scoring an invaluable 48 in India's second innings.
To be fair, India were in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation. Had they included Rahane for the Cape Town and Centurion Tests and the Mumbai batsman failed, the critics would have pounced on them, asking why an out-of-form was included.
It must be remembered that Rahane was a complete failure in the home series against Sri Lanka. In five innings, his best effort was 10 (in the third Test at New Delhi). This gave rise to questions about whether he would actually make the tour. Also, there were no tour games to gauge his form. Yes, Rahane appears far better equipped to handle overseas conditions, but Rohit Sharma got a century and two half-centuries in the three innings he featured in during the home series against Sri Lanka and that should count for something on a tour with no practice games.
What could be considered a blunder was the non-inclusion of Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second Test. Six wickets at Cape Town would have made him a certainty. Let's not forget he put on 99 with the perky Hardik Pandya for the eighth wicket. But Bhuvneshwar was dropped and in came Ishant Sharma. It was later revealed that Ishant was ill and hence missed the opening Test. Does that mean Bhuvneshwar would have not made the playing XI had Ishant been fine? It could well be.
Bhuvneshwar then returned for the final Test, where India didn't go in with their top spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. It was a gamble that paid off, but it's unlikely to happen again and it shouldn't happen again, because spin is an integral part of the game. Also, good sides don't become great sides if they lack variety. Coming back to Ashwin, who is to say he wouldn't have troubled the South Africans at the Wanderers? Being a tall bowler, he would have been dangerous with his bounce and those cracks might have augured well for his artillery.
Overall, India's pace attack looks fully loaded and things will get interesting as the battle for places gathers steam. One can't think of another outstanding India pace pack than the current one. It reminds me of the trio that did duty on the 2007 tour of England, where Zaheer Khan, S Sreesanth and RP Singh contributed to India's series win under Rahul Dravid's captaincy.
In 2007, England skipper Michael Vaughan was expected to dish out a bit of praise for India at the press conference after the final day of the Oval Test, but he surprised us seated journalists when he said, "We have all been asked different questions when we have batted, about the angle at which we have had to face the left-armers. That is something that we have not seen before and it is important that we learn from these kinds of experiences."
That coming from a man who led England to a historic Ashes victory (after 18 years) at the same venue two seasons before was high praise indeed. India tour England this summer and Joe Root's Englishmen cannot afford to ignore India's pace strength. But what good will the bowlers' influence be without the batsmen putting up tall scores? Generally, they were loose in South Africa and they need to emulate their captain by putting a high price on their wickets. Testing wickets cannot be an excuse for poor shots, after all!
The best opening stand for the series was 30 (Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan at Cape Town) so there is a problem to be set right at the top. Vijay will cringe when he looks at his SA tour average of 17.00, as compared to 97.33 in his previous series against Sri Lanka at home. KL Rahul is too good a player to end up averaging 7.50 from four visits to the crease. Pujara will always be remembered for his fighting 50 in Johannesburg, but he would have been happier with better scores in the previous two Tests. All said and done, India's series loss was no disgrace. Kohli's men have made a statement — we'll have our bad days, but we won't stop fighting.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to email@example.com
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