If India were to lose the Mohali Test match, their first day’s batting display will haunt them forever, especially when the conditions on the opening day, under a benign sun with a cool breeze fanning the stadium, could not have been better for the home team.
The crucial toss, made more important due to a wicket which shows more than usual signs of crumbling, was won by Virat Kohli and his batsmen were going to bat first. The curator of the wicket, former Ranji Trophy wicketkeeper Daljeet Singh, had done a perfect job of squeezing all the bounce from the wicket. That is what the Indians were wanting and their wish had been fulfilled. The menace of the South African pace bowlers was neutralised and yet India lost all their wickets for 201 runs. Was it sheer bad batting or the tricks of the wicket that played a role in this pathetic show? One could have said both factors had a role to play had Indians not played indiscreet shots, showing little patience and technique to counter an excruciatingly slow wicket that was showing signs of turning.
The result of this shocking display was that a part time left arm spinner Dean Elgar took four wickets. All the bowler did was to toss the ball, get little bit of turn which was enough to make Indians play him as if he was throwing dynamites at them. Pujara played for the turn which was not there and was trapped in front of the stumps. Rahane chose to drive at a turning ball away from his body to give the slip fielder catching practice. Vridiman Saha fell in defending and Amit Mishra aimed at the skies beyond the boundary but could only send the ball well short of the long off fence.
Off spinner Harmer by getting the ball to turn the least had the only man to show some grit and application, Murali Vijay, failing to connect a sweep and India had been done in by their own lack of skill and temperament in taking advantage of conditions tailor made for them.
The key man, Kohli, had too short a stint at the wicket to realise that the slow pace of the wicket was not conducive to play across the line. The result a lead edge to covers off the debutant Rabada. Imran Tahir, the man who was supposed to be the spearhead of the South African spin bowling, was used very sparingly. Yet he played his role to perfection, bemusing the last two batsmen with his trademark googlies that shattered the stumps.
To sum up, the poor quality of batting was more to blame for the mess that the Indians created for themselves than any venom in the bowling. It was, as if, the batsmen were so conscious of the wicket that innocuous balls were treated as if fatal bullets were being fired from both ends.
Are India out of the match? Certainly not. In fact, they still hold the upper hand. The terror of the wicket or what it could do, played havoc with the South African minds as well. Both Stiaan van Zyl and Faf du Plessis left balls they should have played and while cooling their heels in the dressing room, they like most of us must be wondering, what is in store for them and India in this Test.
Even a score of 200 may appear a mountain to climb after the manner in which Van Zel and Amla struggled to counter the stifling length of Jadeja and the craft and variety of Ashwin.