IND vs SA: Coping with the pace

When India succumbed for 112 to the seaming deliveries that Sri Lanka bowled at Dharamshala in a one-day match last December, a former cricketer remarked, “This is just the trailer. Film shall be released in South Africa.” He was obviously referring to India’s repeated failures when confronted with bounce, seam and swing.

Cheteshwar Pujara's form has been an area of concern for India.   -  AP

When India succumbed for 112 to the seaming deliveries that Sri Lanka bowled at Dharamshala in a one-day match last December, a former cricketer remarked, “This is just the trailer. Film shall be released in South Africa.” He was obviously referring to India’s repeated failures when confronted with bounce, seam and swing.

Every Indian batsman now engaged in the series against South Africa knows the importance of playing close to the body. He is also aware that the bounce is a critical factor when dealing with the scorching pace that the South Africans generate on lively tracks. It is the “response” that determines the result, avers former India opener W. V. Raman, who travelled twice for Test series in South Africa.

Part of the team in 1992-93 and 1996-97, Raman shared his experience even as he pleaded “empathy” for the current team. “For us the challenging part was the unknown territory in South Africa in 1992. We knew they were capable of producing hard brand of cricket. Things were stacked up against us because they were hungry to prove to the world,” remembered Raman.

For Test wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia, the series in 1996-97 was an education. “I can understand how tough it can be. True, our batsmen didn’t do very well but then South Africans have also struggled against our attack. Only, the South Africans have shown more discipline in their bowling. Bounce and seam will be a challenge for every batsman and all the more for us because we don’t play on such pitches anywhere in the sub-continent,” said Mongia.

“In international cricket,” insisted Raman, “it is always difficult to adjust if you don’t know the local conditions. We would have fared much better if the team had played a couple of practice matches. Not that they would have encountered bouncy pitches in those matches but it would have prepared them to some extent. It is a combination of factors. It is just that things did not go our way.’

The ill-placed hype created by the media did not help the team either. The team, however, was oblivious of it. “That can’t be the team’s concern,” observed Mongia. “Skill matters a lot and not just the mental strength. For batsmen and the wicketkeepers, the bounce can be very unnerving. You need time to adapt. We tend to start a tour badly and then play to our potential. In can be tough in a three-Test series.”

Raman agreed, “A five-match series allows you to recover. It is not that our team lacks abilities. It depends on how you work it out as the tour goes along. I am sure the team will respond strongly (at Johannesburg).” India trails 0-2 in the three-match series.