For the second time in the most important overseas tour in 36 months, India went without their vice-captain and the batsman with the highest average outside the subcontinent. It was more or less on the cards, given how Kohli had scoffed at an unconvinced media on Friday. But did he read the pitch wrong too? (IND v SA 2nd Test blog)
Day 1 hints at that. Centurion was anticipated to be fast and bouncy without the lateral movement. But with the strong Highveld sun almost baking a bare-looking pitch that was producing turn in the first session itself, it seems India might already be missing second spinner Ravindra Jadeja. (IND v SA scorecard)
Not just on Saturday, Kohli seemed to have a different idea of the pitch on Friday too. South Africa captain Faf du Plessis had expressed his concern about its brown look. “There is a thick layer of ground grass on it, which is not something we’re used to seeing. Hopefully it doesn’t turn,” he had sounded wary on Friday. Kohli held a contradictory opinion. “It looks likely a really lively pitch. Exactly what we expected it to be,” was how he had described it.
After the Newlands loss, Kohli had mentioned that coach Ravi Shastri is normally responsible for reading the pitch. Not just as a player, but also as a commentator for nearly three decades, Shastri’s expertise is unquestionable. Yet India went with just one spinner, three pacers and a medium-pacer all-rounder even after having a final look at the pitch before toss.
By the end of the day, Ashwin had got three wickets in 31 overs, Ishant accounted for AB de Villiers in his 16 and Jasprit Bumrah bowled 18 overs. Barring the run out of Hashim Amla, Hardik Pandya didn’t threaten any batsmen in 14 cheap but wayward overs while Mohammed Shami just doesn’t seem to shake off the bad habit of wasting the new ball. Only Ishant and Ashwin consistently made the batsmen uncomfortable, prompting the question why India went with just five batsmen in a Test they have to win.
Ideally, two spinners could have been fielded with two pacers and Rahane as the sixth batsman. Pandya may have saved the blushes in Newlands with a brave 94 but he isn’t of the same mettle as Rahane. Likewise, labeling Kumar only as a seamer and dropping him while retaining the one-Test old Bumrah seems harsh on a bowler who not only took six wickets at Newlands but also scored a precious 25 in the first innings.
Parthiv Patel’s selection, in place of ‘injured’ Wriddhiman Saha, was an attempt to add batting depth at a position meant for a specialist and it has already cost India dear runs after Amla was dropped on 30. More significantly, this is now looking like a pitch where Shikhar Dhawan could have been the impact batsman India had yearned for at the top. But he too is carrying drinks wearing the dreaded yellow bib.