Not everything went against India’s way in the 72-run defeat. Virat Kohli’s team had its moments. Not once but twice in a close contest, but squandered them. First, the bowlers let South Africa off after pinning the hosts at 12 for three on Day 1 at Newlands. And then chasing 208 for a win on Day 4, India were looking good at 71 for four before the middle order caved in.
In an exclusive chat on Friday, Sachin Tendulkar, who had previewed the series for Hindustan Times and said India had their best chance to win in South Africa, feels Centurion is going to test the character of Kohli’s side.
What do you think will be the mood in the Indian dressing room in Centurion?
While I don’t think the team is mentally down after the Cape Town defeat, South Africa will have their tails up. This is going to be a huge test for the team management. What India do outside the field will be as important as on it.
There is so much being written about the composition of the playing XI. What’s your take?
There is bound to be talk on the playing XI. It is unfair to give an opinion sitting in Mumbai. As I look at it, if the weather is going to be sunny, then we should not tinker with the team. Grass on the pitch and the weather during the period of the Test must be factored in before choosing the XI. The team management has to be at its sharpest.
Given the nature of wickets in South Africa, do you really see an off-spinner like Ravichandran Ashwin playing a role?
Of course, 110 per cent spinners have a role to play. Ashwin gives the team something different. You may not get rank turners in South Africa, but if the wicket is not rock hard, then a spinner has a role. As I said reading the conditions will be key. The conditions won’t change for us, we have to change according to the conditions there.
Where did India go wrong in the Cape Town Test?
I would say India had their moments to turn the screws on South Africa. At 12 for three, the Proteas were in trouble and then Hardik Pandya got the team back. What we missed were partnerships. We had a good chance to win. All we needed to do was tire their bowlers out because with Dale Steyn out, South Africa were a bowler short. If we had played the first 25 overs better, the script could have been different.
What about the first 25 overs?
Look, Test cricket is all about understanding and adaptability. What you enjoy in India, you don’t enjoy overseas. In India, with the SG ball in play, you can get off to a flier. The bowlers only get the advantage between 20th to 50th overs when reverse swing comes into play. In South Africa, it’s exactly the opposite. The first 25 overs belong to the pacers. Indian batsmen can’t be playing strokes they do in home conditions.
If they had been patient in Cape Town, India would have scored the bulk of their runs between 50-80 overs. In Centurion, the openers have to take a lot of responsibility to see the new ball off.
Virat Kohli’s second innings dismissal (lbw) was brilliantly worked out by Vernon Philander. A great batsman like Kohli should have seen that ball coming in…
To err is human. All good bowlers set their batsmen up. Philander took two-and-a-half overs to set Kohli up. That’s the beauty of Test cricket.
You just need one trump-card ball to knockout the man you dread. I have been set up too. Herein comes the question of patience and character.
Can you narrate an incident where you have been set up but came through that Test thanks to application?
It was the first Test in Adelaide on the 1999-2000 tour of Australia. I distinctly remember my tussle with Glenn McGrath. With 40 minutes to go for stumps on Day 2, McGrath bowled four-five maiden overs.
He relentlessly pitched outside off and I was happy to play the dot balls, playing only 20 per cent of the deliveries. The Aussie plan to frustrate me failed. Next morning, I hit three boundaries off McGrath, and mind you, he was bowling in the same corridor the day before.
I had thus won the mental game against him, but it was the virtue of patience that actually helped. India will have to attempt something similar.
Dale Steyn is out. Sourav Ganguly said it’s a blessing in disguise for South Africa as Chris Morris can contribute more as an all-rounder.
Steyn is a specialist and in a different league altogether. Morris is a dangerous batsman if he goes for his big shots but you don’t expect the No 8 player to score the runs in a Test match. Bulk of the runs must come from the top five.
What are the three things you would like India to do in the Centurion Test?
Batsmen should concentrate in the first 25 overs and look to accelerate after 50; bowlers should bowl in the right areas, and more importantly, remain positive as a team.
(Source: The Hindustan Times)