The character of a great test match is that it is a lot like life – the balance can change at any time. In one session one team may be ruling the roost but in the next, the other could make a comeback. At the end of the first day South Africa had started well but India wrested back the initiative. The pattern repeated itself on the 2nd day as well. South Africa, especially Vernon Philander, began the day well for the Proteas by just ejecting the remainder of Indian batting for a mere 25 runs. Then the opening partnership of Smith and Petersen was going steady when the first blow was struck by Ishant Sharma.
Following the ODI series Ishant had been sent away from the Indian team by the management in the Ranji Trophy so that he could regain his confidence and rhythm. He did that with a bagful of wickets in the matches he played and that made sure that he was going to be picked for the team to South Africa. On the second day Sharma made life fairly difficult for the South Africans with his stock ball – the inswinging or incoming delivery bowled at decent enough length and pace. Zaheer Khan may have been the most expensive among the Indian seamers but his immense experience and guidance meant that his junior cohorts Shami and Ishant never stayed off the radar. To go with that, he picked up Graeme Smith who has become a walking wicket for him on tours to South Africa.
In the ongoing season Mohammed Shami has been the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket. After his exploits in the one day series, which proved to be futile for no fault of his, he struck hard here as well. If the door was a little ajar after Ishant’s storm he made sure that it was firmly shut, at least for the time being, on the Proteas’ face.
Since the start of the one day series De Villiers has been a thorn in India’s side but at least in the first test they were able to thwart him thanks to Shami. However, one sore aspect of India on this day was its catching in the slips with several crucial catches being dropped that allowed the pair of du Plessis and Philander to prosper. One feels that if those chances had been grabbed the Indians would have been in a far more commanding position.
For the South Africans though, there will be a few things to ponder. The first issue is the workload of AB de Villiers. Since he has never kept for a long period in first class matches will his body be able to sustain the pressure and that could be affecting his batting adversely as well. Recently Brendon McCullum had to give up the position because of injury issues and workload management. The Proteas team management needs to think this issue long and hard and if the need be relieve him of his wicketkeeping duties and entrust them to someone like Quinton de Kock. Even if, AB has to keep, he should not be asked to bat at 5 but rather 6 or 7 should be the spot for him. While it is true that such a demotion will be a sacrilege for someone with his capability and achievement, it would at least ensure that he is not forced to give up keeping before De Kock matures into a test standard performer.
The next big conundrum would be that of Kallis. Since his return he has not performed at the level expected of him but then he is irreplaceable! Over the years he has been a major reason behind South Africa’s success in the longer formats and there is no one who can take his place. May be one option would be to develop JP Duminy and Dean Elgar as viable part time spinners so that they contribute some overs or have someone like Ryan McLaren or Wayne Parnell in the team. In any case, Kallis would be a humongous gap to fill.
From the context of the match here’s what both the teams would want to do:
- South Africa would like to press on. It may not be looking at Philander to go on and get a big innings since he is primarily a bowler who bats well but du Plessis needs to come out of his shell and be a bit more proactive. He will also need to guide the tail.
- India would be looking to pick up all the wickets before lunch today and then try and bat well for the remainder of the day.