India continued from where they left off in Mohali on day one of the second Freedom Series Test being played at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. After Virat Kohli won the toss and chose to bowl first on what looked a slightly damp pitch, his bowlers, especially the spinners, responded in brilliant fashion. Barring AB de Villiers, who stood tall and played an attractive knock of 85 in his 100th Test, no other South African batsman managed to blunt the incision of the Ravindra Jadeja-Ravichandran Ashwin duo, who once again tormented the visitors with their spin, guile and nous to bowl on Indian pitches.
India took only 59 overs to dismiss South Africa, who, for the first time in this four-match Test series, posted a total above 200 – 214, to be precise – thanks to a 37-run stand for the 9th wicket between Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott, two bowlers who replaced the injured duo of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander in the visitors’ playing XI. Jadeja and Ashwin finished with four wickets each. Varun Aaron bowled a totally unplayable delivery to dismiss Hashim Amla.
From the nature of dismissals affected by the Indian spinners, it was crystal clear that the wicket had no particular demons in it, for the fast bowlers or the spinners. But it was a case of the South African batsmen failing to learn from their Mohali mistakes and having no clue in negotiating Ashwin and Jadeja.
With a minimum of 29 overs to be faced in the remainder of day 1, Indian openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan strode out to the middle, with the left-hander looking to put his twin batting failures in Mohali behind him.
He started off well, though, yesterday, middling most of the deliveries he faced, and gradually finding the gaps and boundaries, something which he did not quite manage early on in his innings. His partner, Vijay, lacked fluency and did not quite exude the same serenity at the crease as we have seen him do over the last 12-18 months. The Tamilnadu batsman was lucky to be batting overnight, as his mistimed pull shot against Morkel was put down by Imran Tahir at square-leg. It was a crucial phase towards the end of day 1’s play, as the Proteas’ bowlers led by Morkel, posed the Indian openers a few questions and as aforementioned, even came close to being rewarded for their efforts. India were 0-80 at stumps, trailing South Africa by 134 runs. It was the ideal scenario Kohli would have asked for when he put the visitors in.
Even though there were no interruptions in play on day 1, the overhead conditions were a bit overcast and there was little sunshine throughout the day. The forecast for the second, third and fourth days, at least, of the Test match, was not great. Incessant drizzle forced second day’s play to be abandoned without a single ball being bowled, and it remains to be seen if the weather forecast proves right on days three and four too.
India have just three more days and a possible 294 overs during that ‘time’, to make the play and give themselves a chance to go 2-0 up in the series. In case the weather holds up reasonably well, what will India have to do from here on to harness the advantage given to them by their spinners, and push for a victory?
The first target for India has to be to get past South Africa’s 1st innings score of 214. It could take them a good couple of sessions to wipe out the 134-run deficit. Dhawan’s presence in the middle does bode well for them, in that the Delhi left-hander has the game to score quick runs, even against the red ball, and keep South Africa firmly on the back-foot. He has got off to a good start, for the first time in the Freedom Series, and, from India’s perspective, needs to kick on and stay in the middle for as long as possible.
Having lost an entire day’s play due to inclement weather and to contend with the potential of losing more overs on days 3, 4 and 5 of the Test match, India, ideally, ought to look to bat just once. South Africa’s batting displays so far in the series have not suggested that they can neutralize the potency shown by Jadeja and Ashwin. But that is where the nature of the playing surface comes into question.
At Mohali, the Indian spinners bowled immaculately and did not need the assistance of a dry and dusty pitch. South Africa’s naivety against spin also helped them pick wickets in both the innings of the first Test. Even in the 1st innings here, the Indian spinners were brilliant and proved too good for the visitors’ batsmen, most of whom have looked far from convincing since the beginning of the Test series.
However, the pitch for the second Test has been under covers for a long time now, in the build-up to the Test and on day 2. It has had little sunshine, as well. Even on the first day, there were clear suggestions during both the sides’ innings that the pitch was on the slower side and picking wickets would not be easy if the batsmen apply themselves. Given the way the Indian spinners have bowled in the series so far, you expect them to continue troubling the South African batsmen and finding a way past them. But, unlike in Mohali, taking wickets in clusters may not be all that easy. Because the pitch will get slower and has not got any appreciable footmarks, as yet, for the spinners to get something out of.
Given the weather forecast for the remainder of this Test match, it is safe to say that the onus is on Team India to force the issue, with the bat, and buy themselves as much time to bowl South Africa out for the second ‘time’ in the match. The Indian bowlers, as a whole, have delivered time and again throughout the Freedom Series. And can be expected to do so again in South Africa’s second innings. But first, the Indian batsmen have got to put their hands up and pile on a huge total on the board, in quick ‘time’ and a limited number of overs, as well, given the weather forecast for the next 3 days.