It will be a different ball game in South Africa

2018 could well be the year when the Indian team does what it has never done before — win a series in South Africa, and later in Australia.

Dale Steyn, making a comeback after an injury lay-off, is expected to trouble the Indian batsmen even if he bowls at reduced pace.   -  Getty Images

The Indian think tank’s decision to try and replicate the conditions the team might encounter in South Africa, during the Test series against Sri Lanka is a laudable one, indeed. The Indian team gets barely a week in South Africa before it plays the first Test in Newlands, Cape Town. That is barely enough time for the body clock to get used to the time there.

There is not much time to get used to the pitches in South Africa, and that’s why the attempt to try and replicate the conditions in India. It almost backfired at the Eden Gardens, when the Sri Lankans used the overcast weather and the grass on the pitch to send India’s batsmen packing in the first innings. If only Suranga Lakmal had better support at the other end, India would have been in dire straits. What that innings did was to show the frailties of Indian batting when confronted with unhelpful conditions. While India were able to recover in the second innings when the pitch had eased out considerably, they may not find it as easy against the Proteas.

Dale Steyn will be itching to play Test cricket after a long lay-off due to injury. Whether he will be able to regain his pace is something only time will tell, but even if he bowls at reduced speed his late moving out-swingers will not be easy for the Indian batsmen to negotiate. There is also Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel to contend with, and that’s going to be much more difficult than facing just Suranga Lakmal.

The other worry will be the fact that Virat Kohli will be away from top class cricket until January 5. Luckily, he has age on his side and so getting back the physical contours for international cricket won’t be too tough.

Hardik Pandya could play as the third seamer for India in South Africa.   -  AFP

 

In cricket if a batsman is getting runs, it’s important for him to carry on playing, as a break can disrupt the rhythm and halt his momentum. How often have we seen a batsman, striking the ball fluently, suddenly struggling to time the ball after being at the non-striker’s end for some overs. That’s why when a batsman is scoring runs, it’s better for him and his team that he keeps playing.

No batsman ever gets tired of, or by scoring runs. Bowling is different, as it’s a lot tougher to keep bowling over after over, and sometimes in conditions that are hot and humid. So giving the bowlers the odd match off makes sense as they can come back refreshed and go flat out.

The other aspect that came through from the grassy pitch experiment at the Eden Gardens was how tough the spinners found to get the ball to turn, and so looked ineffective. That could well decide the line-up for the first Test in South Africa, where only one spinner might play. Hardik Pandya could play as the third seamer. There is no doubt that with Ajinkya Rahane out of form, India will go in with six batsmen at least for the first Test.

The tight scheduling does not give the out of form players the chance to regain form, or the reserves to show they deserve an opportunity in place of the out of form players. It is never easy to go cold into an international game, and if it’s a newcomer then it’s even more hard, but then that’s the modern day itinerary. How players, who are fitter and stronger than players of previous generations, can say that they get fatigued is beyond understanding. From a team perspective, especially when overseas (when out of the Indian subcontinent conditions), the more games they play the better they will get used to those conditions, and will naturally play better too.

2018 could well be the year when the Indian team does what it has never done before — win a series in South Africa, and later in Australia. Hopefully, the scheduling by then will be such that India will be in Australia well in advance and play proper first class matches. They will then not have to ask for pitches like the one they had at the Eden Gardens.