Five, just not fine at Mohali
There’s always a temptation to play five bowlers in a Test to take 20 wickets. But the flip side is that you go in with a batsman short, and that should be avoided on pitches that are likely to assist bowlers more than batsmen, writes Aakash Chopra
India is all set to win the first Test match in Mohali. Out of the six sessions of cricket played in the game thus far, only one session was won by the batting side (India winning the final session on Day 2), and that session is likely to dictate the outcome. It should be game, set and match if India manages to win the first session today.
India opener Shikhar Dhawan walks back to the pavilion after being dismissed for a duck against South Africa in Mohali yesterday. Pic/PTI
Virat Kohli’s homecoming as skipper couldn’t have started on a better note — the curator at Mohali prepared the pitch that the Indian team would have wanted (tailor-made for spin) and Amla didn’t call correctly at the toss, which meant that Indian batsmen got the best conditions to bat in the Test match. In addition to that, South Africa’s decision of playing five bowlers made it easier for the hosts.
There’s always a temptation to play five bowlers in a Test match, for taking 20 wickets and winning the match is the only objective of playing but this strategy is laden with risk. Every coin has two sides and the other, not so encouraging side of this coin is that you go in with a batsman short, and that should be avoided on pitches that are likely to assist bowlers more than batsmen. The thumb rule of picking your XI is to beef up the bowling on flat pitches and bolster the batting on bowler-friendly surfaces. And this Mohali pitch is a bowler’s paradise. It’s quite astonishing that both South Africa and India erred with their team selection. The wide cracks on the first day should’ve raised the red flag for both sides, for it was quite evident that this pitch wasn’t designed for a five-day match.
Therefore, it was prudent to immediately add another batsman to your XI but both teams thought otherwise.
Fortunately, India is unlikely to pay a hefty price for their miscalculation.
The biggest positive for Indian Test team in the last 18 months is Murali Vijay’s evolution as a player. Once again, he showed the importance of knowing where your off-stump is (left a lot of balls alone and forced South Africans to bowl to his strength) and the value of playing with a vertical bat. The pitch with variable bounce dictates that you should offer a straight bat even to deliveries that can be cut or pulled otherwise and Vijay had the discipline to do just that.
Vijay’s so skilled
Also, he’s one of the few Indian players who’s still a good player of spin. His urgency to use the feet to get to the pitch of the ball and the ability to go deep inside the crease to shorten the length sets him apart. You need real Test match skills to survive on tough pitches and it doesn’t come as a surprise that the top run scorers thus far from both sides are proper Test batsmen. Vijay, Pujara, Amla and the maverick AB de Villiers.
In fact, AB de Villiers has set the batting template for the rest of the match. Even though he struggled in the beginning and was even fortunate to survive that tricky period, his counterattack was exceptional.
His footwork was decisive and mind uncluttered. On pitches like these it is imperative to know your go-to shots and must have the conviction to take a few calculated risks, and De Villiers did it beautifully. The remaining Indian batsmen would do well take a leaf out of the world’s best batsman’s book.