When the ball is delivered at over 145 kmph then no batsman can be entirely sure, Virender Sehwag once said. Then a certain element of good fortune won’t hurt, he explained.
Coincidentally, the batsman’s typically candid assessment came a day after India were shot out for 125 by Australia at the very same Centurion Park where the number one ranked team were dealt a rude welcome by South Africa’s express pace duo Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel on Thursday.
The Australian bowlers, led by Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie, had run through the batting in a World Cup league game in 2003.
After South Africa got off to a strong start, a pundit pointed to the drop in pace, and an improved wicket, when Indian new ball bowlers began operating.
India no longer fall back on dust bowls at home and their batsmen have become far more consistent on livelier pitches abroad. That has helped claim the status of the number one ranked Test team.
However, the carefully built reputation lay shredded after the blowout in their very first innings in South Africa, which ended for a paltry 136. Yes, a good toss was lost and the pitch had some grass and dampness after it was under the covers due to rain.
Still, it came as a surprise that India’s formidable line-up had absolutely no answer against the liquid pace, accuracy and seam movement produced by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
The innings showed how batting to survive or attempting to hit one’s way out of trouble against pace seldom work.
That has been one reason why Indian batsmen have particularly failed in South Africa, who have repeatedly exploited that mindset.
It was the lightning pace of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, which saw India shot out for 100 and 66 at Kingsmead, Durban in 1996. Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morkel also caused considerable damage on a green-tinged pitch in Ahmedabad in 2008 - firing out India for 76 to claim an innings win.
Often against such adversity, Indian batsmen get negative. In Centurion, only Dravid and Tendulkar looked assured until they were done in by pace and movement.
Indian batsmen have distinctly done better in Australia. That could be attributed to the slowing down of some of the Australian pitches and the absence of express pace in their ranks with Lee failing to cement his place.
India are not alone when it comes to crumbling against pace as England and Australian batsmen showed on a lively WACA pitch in the third Ashes Test. Perhaps playing time, one of Dravid’s best traits, is not entirely unfashionable.