GAME PLAN: The real test still to come for India

Jaideep Ghosh

File Photo ( PTI )

File Photo ( PTI )

It isn’t every day that you get to see an innings of 438 runs in a One-day International. Doesn’t matter who is on the receiving end, it was a display that was beyond words in sheer determination and focus.

AB de Villiers is by far the best batsman we have seen in a long time, and that includes the ‘greats’ we in India keep harping on. Not often can you come across such consistency combined with such a strike rate. He was sheer joy, right through the ODI series.

But now that the ODIs are over, one would have assumed that India would be breathing a little easier. But that doesn’t seem to be quite true.

The rest test for any side worth its salt is Test cricket. There is where India will be tested now.

The BCCI had put up an interesting little interactive feature on Twitter, asking people who would tilt the balance in India’s favour – batsmen or spinners.

Yours truly tentatively suggested, “rain?” That could be as good a weapon as any.

For starters, it’s a little surprising that BCCI seems to think that just batting can actually win you matches. Test matches are won by sides that take 20 wickets. Ask Pakistan, how they did it against England.

So the question isn’t batsmen versus spinners. It’s fast bowlers or spinners.

I would assume that the Indian batsmen can provide a decent number of runs, if they happen to bat first, in order to make the South Africans work hard. Then it would be up to the bowlers to deliver.

They haven’t in the recent past.

It is understood that Ravi Shastri and certain other members of the Indian team’s back-up contingent had a little bit of a tiff with the curator of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai after India were decimated in the last ODI.

The home side wanted a lot of water on the pitch and a spinning track while the MCA authorities decided they wanted a belter where the Indians would hammer the South African bowlers.

Didn’t quite work out like that.

Anyway, back to the Tests. We begin in Mohali, the northern-most Test venue in India. The weather is beginning to get cold, though nothing compared to what it will be in a few weeks.

Anyhow, Mohali will, at best, be a decent pitch for bowling on the first two days. It is no longer the fearsome Perth-like strip which had scared the daylights out of some fine Indian batsmen.

So it will essentially boil down to spin eventually and there is where the issue is with the home boys.

India basically played all their matches with one-and-a-half bowlers – Ravichandran Ashwin being one, the rest comprising the half.

Now Ashwin is down with a side strain, so we essentially have a half-bowling contingent to take on Hashim Amla, De Villiers and the likes.

India have called up Ravindra Jadeja. He will replace Harbhajan Singh, who has, thankfully, been asked to go and get married.

Chief selector Sandeep Patil says domestic cricket is also a consideration when selecting sides, so Jadeja is in. Sanjay Manjrekar says we need to find more bowlers. Many others too have lamented India’s demise everywhere, including at home.

What no one has said is the India Premier League, which has been over the years been consistently be touted as the fountainhead for talent, has damaged the India cricketing fibre extensively.

Spinners throw down flat, unimaginative rubbish, aimed only at restricting batsmen. Fast bowlers try to bowl as far away from the bat as possible, while the batsmen have no clue whatsoever about how to play beyond 20 overs.

There’s a lot of talk about how the IPL and extensive experience of India has helped the South Africans.

Hello? So the experience of the IPL only benefits foreign teams? Is that what the reason is for India’s demise in everything?

That is the most ludicrous thing ever. South Africa won because they were better in everything they did.

Even in the Test matches, they will be better in most aspects, though I still think India’s best chance lies in the five-day format.

Hopefully Ashwin will be fit for Mohali. A side without him is now inconceivable, especially when you look at the rest of the bowling. India will win or lose depending on how he ends up on the fitness chart.

It would be nice to see a better fight. In the ODIs, India were led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who is suddenly finding himself on very thin ice indeed. In sharp contrast, Virat Kohli is a darling of all concerned as of now, wearing his heart on the sleeve and playing the winning game.

So Kohli better find a way to pull things back. He got India a good away win in Sri Lanka, but South Africa will definitely be a way bigger challenge than the islanders, who have been in a flux of their own.

Hopefully some good Test cricket will soothe the nerves before the rabble to IPL resumes.

Now there’s an example of chalk and cheese if there ever was one.