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India vs. South Africa – 1st Test, Day 1 Review

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Compared to Indian teams of past, this group of Indian batsmen has little or no experience playing overseas. They have been bred on a diet of T20 and One Day cricket, with some test cricket on spin-friendly surfaces at home. What that has meant is that bar Kohli (who appeared in 4 tests in Australia), none of them carry any baggage of India’s shoddy overseas performances of the 1990s or the 2000s.

The Sachins and Dravids of India learned on the job. They played for counties, traveled overseas with India, learning tour by tour how to counter the world’s best fast bowlers. India didn’t have foreign coaches during the 90s.

This group of players has learned from Duncan Fletcher’s experience. They have learned speaking to the Tendulkars and Dravids through their final acts as Indian players. It is almost fitting that their practice match was washed out in Benoni, so they could work hard on their game in the nets. They practiced hard under the watchful eyes of Fletcher.

As a group, India’s top 7 showed immense application and character today. Even the openers. while struggling to tick the scoring rate, survived the first 9 overs. That meant that Pujara didn’t walk in till the tenth over, and Kohli not till the 16th. More than an hour of play had passed, and Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan combined to score only 19 runs. But they also combined to blunt out 69 deliveries.

That new ball was then easier to counter for Pujara and Kohli, who built a solid partnership of 89. Their partnership was built on application, patience and seizing the moment to put the bad balls away.

Kohli’s innings will go down as a landmark in India’s post-Tendulkar era. That it came in India’s first test match post-Sachin is even more telling: he is willing to write his own legacy. I certainly hope the rest will follow his lead. They have a lot to learn and a long way to go yet, but the attitude and application shown today will go a long way towards achieving that.

Kohli’s shot selection was immaculate, if not for his final shot, and his timing was impeccable. Rahane and Dhoni then dug in for a crucial unbeaten 36 run partnership at the end of the day, seeing off the first ten overs of the new ball, against some testing bowling from Steyn, Philander and Morkel.

South Africa weren’t bad with the ball – they just came up against a more determined and fierce opponent than they faced in the one dayers. When I asked ex-Mumbai player Rahul Mankad about India’s chances in the tests after the third one dayer, he said – “Don’t pay too much attention to one dayers. When you are chasing 300 you have to be adventurous. The difference was that De Kok and Amla got away with streaky shots and Dhawan/Sharma et al went to fielders. That is cricket, my friend. People forget.”

Without the added pressure of having to score runs quickly, these Indian batsmen have found their own rhythm. The fate of this match may yet be uncertain, but they have taken one step forward in breaking free from the ghosts of 8-0.

Verdict: Even-Stevens in terms of the state of the match, but India might take a few psychological pluses from this first day – showing themselves that they can compete overseas in tough conditions. The first session tomorrow will be key: If India’s batsmen can get through the first 10-15 overs, they will feel like they can post 350-375 on the board, which will give their bowlers a total to work with. Interestingly poised.


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