From the pitch to South Africa’s inability to leave, the first day in Mohali offered much intrigue. A tough few days lie ahead. Patience, partnerships, and singles, will win the race. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks five talking points from day one.
India are, probably, just ahead after day one of the first Test against South Africa. The hosts were bowled out for 201, after winning the toss, and electing to bat first. Just one Indian batsman, Murali Vijay, managed to score more than 40. South Africa were 28 for 2 at close, trailing by 173 runs, with Stiaan van Zyl and Faf du Plessis back in the dressing room.
South Africa are without JP Duminy and Morne Morkel, both missing out through injury. Imran Tahir is back, and Kagiso Rabada has been handed his first Test cap. There was plenty of intrigue on the day, and we’ve picked five of the key talking points after day one.
A Test of unknowns for both teams
South Africa went for a dynamic approach, weakening the batting and including an extra spinner in the absence of JP Duminy. They also handed Kagiso Rabada his debut after Morne Morkel failed a late fitness test. Rabada has already proven himself in limited overs, and had a fair outing in his first innings, but the addition of a new cap is not the most unknown aspect of South Africa’s line-up.
With Duminy out, AB de Villiers is the last “recognised” batsman to come, and he’s in next. Dane Vilas is there, too, but he has never batted in a Test match. Vilas was included largely because South Africa are not sure of Quinton de Kock’s form, especially in the longest format of the game. It puts a fair bit of pressure on the senior batsmen, and means Vilas might be forced to adapt his game when he does get a chance to bat. Usually a more attacking batsman, Vilas might be forced into a more conservative role if India continue to spin them over. While that might contradict what he was selected for in the first place, Test cricket is all about adaptability and South Africa will need to do plenty of it if they want to get through this Test. India, too, are a team in transition, and the lack of batting partnerships, and dodgy shots showed that. The combination of a turning track and unsure players means that this Test is going to be a tough challenge all round.
Forgetting how to leave
Both of South Africa’s wickets fell because of the same mistake. Van Zyl and Du Plessis both left balls they should not have. Van Zyl looked uncertain, and didn’t know whether he wanted to play, while Du Plessis was merely foxed. Van Zyl can be forgiven for his brain-fade, to an extent. He has hardly played cricket since the season ended earlier in the year, and South Africa’s series against Bangladesh was marred by rain. But Du Plessis, who has been with the team since the start of their tour, should know better. Patience and concentration is going to be key on this wicket. Taking a single when it is there, to relieve some of the pressure, will go a long way to helping build that concentration.
The addition of Imran Tahir
A year ago, it looked like Imran Tahir’s Test career was over, but South Africa have given the leggie another chance. Hashim Amla held him back until quite late in the day, letting Dean Elgar run riot instead. It proved to be a fruitful exercise. South Africa spun out the tail, with the last four batsmen adding 31 runs. Against the West Indies earlier this year, the last four added 45 in the third Test, and against Bangladesh in the second Test, they managed over 50. The approach for getting rid of the last few batsmen is by no means perfect yet, but Tahir’s ability to get rid of the last few batsmen certainly offers some relief.
India go aggressive straight up
Virat Kohli is still new to this captaincy stuff, but he embraced his aggressive streak, and opened with spin straight up. Having seen the turn on offer, Kohli went for exploiting it, straight away, and it was refreshing. Trust in his bowlers, and a bold decision to keep on playing them against players like Du Plessis, who are usually good players of spin, only added extra intrigue to an already entertaining day.
At the close of play, Dean Elgar – who was the surprise of the bowlers, taking four wickets – said that the wicket is “playing like a day-four track”. Of course it would be foolish to place all the blame on the pitch, but it is definitely turning far more than what you’d expect of a pitch on day one, and of the wickets in Mohali. The deck here has usually been fairly kind to pace bowlers, and is also pretty good for batting. Elgar also called it the “toughest day of cricket he has ever played”. But, here’s the thing: Test cricket is called so for a reason; it’s a test, and quite a few of India’s wickets, and both of South Africa’s wickets fell because the batsmen failed the test. The pitch is not a disaster, but it is tricky. DM
South Africa 28 for 2 trail India 201 (Vijay 75, Jadeja 38, Elgar 4-22) by 173 runs
Photo: South Africa’s Dean Elgar bowls during the first day of their first cricket test match against India, in Mohali, India, November 5, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi.