Mohali Test: Spinners call the shots on Day One

The pick of the bowlers was Dean Elgar, who experimented with angles to keep the batsmen on their toes.

Murali Vijay (75) was the only Indian batsman to put up a fight.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

Ravindra Jadeja celebrates with teammates after getting rid of Faf du Plessis   -  PTI

Dean Elgar... pick of the South African bowlers.   -  PTI

The Indians did not fancy Dean Elgar as a bowler.

Though he played during the recent mayhem in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, when South Africa amassed 438 in 50 overs, he did not bowl there.

He did abundantly enough at the I.S. Bindra Stadium here to leave the Indian batsmen in a tangle of sorts with his left-arm spin, which looked friendly to begin with and assumed menacing proportions as the ball did a few things after coming out of Elgar’s palm.

That India posted 201 was principally the work of M. Vijay. His compact show was essential to India’s recovery as Elgar, noted more for his batting, sliced through the opposition with four wickets.

And then South Africa fared no different, losing two wickets for 28. Spinners R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja shared the spoils with the latter claiming Faf du Plessis with his stock ball, the one that does not turn. He had foxed Englishmen Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen with similar deliveries on his debut in Nagpur in 2012.

The first day of the first Test saw a familiar Indian collapse against slow bowlers, once again exploding the myth that they play spin well. It was a remarkably disciplined effort from Vijay that saved India from acute embarrassment.

The home team did experience some sour moments as Elgar and his colleagues picked up wickets with disturbing regularity and cricket in the middle became intense essentially because the batsmen failed to apply themselves. They could not come to terms with the fact that this was Test cricket against a team with a towering reputation in this form of the game.

Winning the toss was a boon. It meant India avoided the onerous task of batting last on a pitch where the ball has stayed low, spun slowly but surely. Runs have been dearer and batting was a challenge since the eagerness to play shots was not curtailed by the top order.

Beginning with the miserable poke by Shikhar Dhawan, who made a sensational debut against Australia here in 2013, India suffered from injudicious shot selection.

Virat Kohli, surprisingly, failed to read the swing. The ball reversed and his intended flick landed low at short-cover. It became a forgettable birthday for the Indian captain, who turned 27 today.

It was a day to cherish for Vijay. What if he did not get a century he so richly deserved? During the course of his 75, the Tamil Nadu opener demonstrated admirable commitment, playing the ball on merit, until the moment he erred in playing a sweep.

It was bound to develop into a contest of mental strength. The South Africans probing and the Indians building and repairing as the opposition came on hard. Vijay hung in doggedly, picking up boundaries when the offering came, but his partners showed impatience, especially Ajinkya Rahane, driving with shoddy footwork. For Cheteshwar Pujara, who was preferred to Rohit Sharma, the innovative Elgar produced an arm-ball, a beauty to get rid of a set batsman.

Jadeja brought the confidence of a performer, riding on his resounding success in three Ranji Trophy matches. He made runs before a low delivery from Philander ended his vigil, took a wicket and boosted the Indian spirits.

Amit Mishra perished to an ugly swipe and leg-spinner Imran Tahir, introduced only in the 44th over, stifled the tail with two googlies.

The pick of the bowlers was Elgar, who experimented with angles to keep the batsmen on their toes. Vijay studied the left-arm spinner well, played him close to the pads, and chose Dale Steyn and off-spinner Simon Harmer to score liberally off.

After the second-wicket partnership (63 runs) the next best was 42 for the eighth wicket. The depth in India’s batting was evident in the easy manner that Jadeja and Ashwin demonstrated while facing the bowlers.

The onus is on them again to keep the team in the game.

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