The first test between India and South Africa ended in a draw. After what transpired in the first 4 days many would have felt that India may have won the game but that was not to be. During the end of the 4th day many fans in South Africa would have pinned their hopes on Faf du Plessis who saved a test against Australia by batting a whole day. He stayed true to the expectation with a valuable innings of 134 where he ate up a valuable 309 deliveries. This was a crucial innings for him given the fact that he did not feature in the one day games. Giving him company was the new age Adam Gilchrist, AB de Villiers who hammered a fantastic 103 from just 168 balls. It was precisely his cavalier display that would have led many Proteas fans to envision a win that seemed unlikely a day back. In many ways, this will be a moral victory for the team that would have thought of just decimating India after its fantastic performance in the one-dayers but had been reduced to fighting it out for draw.
From the point of view of India, this would have come as a stinging defeat in some senses considering the fact that they were on the way to giving their own back following the rather intrepid display during the limited over games. A major problem for India has been the lack of incisive bowling when it comes to winning in the 4th inning of tests. Fans would remember how Abdur Razzaq and Kamran Akmal saved a test match in Mohali when they had looked down and out. Here too, history repeated itself. Even if we consider the fact that the standard of batsmen was far better in comparison, this display would have disappointed many Indian fans who were rooting the team to win yet another test in South Africa where such results have proved elusive. In spite of dominating 3/4th of the test India could not deliver the killing blow.
The question is, where do the teams go from here?
South Africa would be satisfied with their batting so far with everyone, with the exception of Hashim Amla, contributing. However, they would need to look closely at the option to fill the shoes of Morkel in Durban. Kleinveldt is already with the squad and on the other hand there is Kyle Abbott, who has been added recently to the squad. In spite of his height and build, Kleinveldt does not generate sufficient pace. This is an area where Abbott could pip him. In addition, Durban is also his home ground. So he will perhaps be in a better position to fill in over there. Spin bowling is one area where they will need to pay attention, considering the fact that Tahir did not have a good outing. Dropping him would affect his confidence, which is what spinners thrive on but playing him could also turn out to be a tricky proposition. On Tahir’s part, he needs to work on his line and length and also understand his role in the test team. Perhaps Smith will need to use him as an attacking option like de Villiers uses him in the one dayers. At the moment he appears to have been caught between the team’s expectations to defend and his own instincts to attack. The Proteas also need to have a long-term spin bowling coach if they are serious about using such bowlers in proactive roles.
India will be facing similar issues as well. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have not fired in the test. However, given their class they can be expected to fire in the next game and the team management will be sincerely hoping that they do. In the bowling department, the seamers performed well and should be looking to continue in the same vein in Durban as well. However, Ashwin needs to do some soul searching considering he is yet to make a decisive contribution with the ball and is only getting opportunities because he is a good batsman. Being dropped against the Windies did a world of good to Ishant Sharma and it could work for Ashwin as well. May be Ojha with his classical left arm spin could prove to be effective. However, it seems unlikely to happen as of now since Dhoni prefers multi-skilled players and that could help Ashwin retain his place.
One thing can be expected for sure! The groundsmen in Durban will aim to prepare a pitch that is as hard as possible. The pitch in Johannesburg became easy for batting from the 4th day onwards and that played into the hands of India. So, may be South Africa will want to avoid a repeat of the same.
It also needs to be noted that the absence of Morkel has basically canceled any advantage the hosts would have had in terms of quick bowling. India should look to make the most of this situation and try and apply themselves so that the team can create history in a country where several years ago a thin bespectacled lawyer from Gujarat started a movement that changed the lives of the downtrodden people across both the countries.