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Posted at: Dec 8, 2017, 2:07 AM; last updated: Dec 8, 2017, 2:07 AM (IST)

Nets gains

The three-Test series against Sri Lanka was treated by India as more of an extended nets session and their batsmen and pacers did very well. But how much will these runs and wickets matter in South Africa?

Subhash Rajta

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 7

All through the Sri Lanka series, India had one eye on the upcoming South African tour. Minutes after the Test series ended yesterday, India began the mind games as well. 

Surprisingly, the first salvo was fired by Cheteshwar Pujara, the least combative Indian player on this front. “Our fast bowling unit is much better now. I think our fast bowlers will do the damage. I feel there is a difference between what South African batting used to be and what it’s now. There is a difference. That will give us some advantage,” said Pujara, sounding out a threat to the South Africans, in his soft voice and friendly voice.

Besides talking up India’s bowling resources and casting doubts on the South African batting, the India No. 3 said the Indian batsmen are better equipped to handle South Africa this time around. “We have enough experience of South Africa. I have been there in 2010 and 2013. Many of our players were there in 2013. It will definitely help us,” he said. “We will be very well prepared to take them on. We have already started talking about the things we need to work on before heading there.”

Not per plans

Well, how accurate Pujara’s observations turn out to be and how the South African tour pans out is something hidden in the womb of the future. At the moment, what could be said with certainty is that India’s preparations — that’s what the Sri Lanka series was meant to be — didn’t pan out as planned. The quick and bouncy tracks they wanted, to ape the South African tracks, could not be rolled out. The wicket for the rain-hit Kolkata Test was greenish, but the Nagpur and Delhi Tests were played on flat tracks.

More options

Yet, it’s not that the series ended without any gains for India. The biggest gain is that India now have more options to challenge South Africa. The majority of India’s batsmen will enter the contest having scored a lot of runs, the bowlers with quite a few wickets under their belts. Heading into the tough challenge, it certainly helps if the players are feeling good about their form and are high on confidence.

In the batting department, the biggest positive was the return of Murali Vijay from injury and his two back-to-back hundreds. His ability to leave balls and frustrate the new ball bowlers would be crucial to India’s chances in South Africa. So, instead of him returning to the playing XI in South Africa, it was great for him as well as the team that he will head there after scoring two consecutive tons. Besides, Rohit Sharma, returning to the Test fold after over one year, gave a good account of himself in the white flannels. In three innings, he smashed a hundred and two fifties. If he can be consistent in the longer format, a batsman of his abilities at No. 6 would be quite an asset. “We’ve always believed he can change the game in the lower middle order. Very happy with the way the batsmen are playing,” said Virat Kohli, giving Sharma thumbs-up.

Ishant adds bite

It was the comeback series for Ishant Sharma as well, and the tall pacer too made it count. As for the wickets, he finished with eight from two matches, missing the Kolkata Test, where the wicket was extremely helpful for the pacers. All his wickets came on good batting tracks in the last two Tests. In the past, Ishant seemed unable to get wickets with his slightly shorter-length bowling. In this series, he bowled a fuller length and reaped the rewards.

Another gain from the series is that the pacers got an opportunity to bowl a lot of overs. Shami believes it’s great for him and his fellow pacers. “Fast bowlers don’t get a chance to bowl long spells in India. It is a rarity that fast bowlers are getting to bowl more than 25 or 30 overs (in an innings),” he said. “Earlier it used to be around 12 to 14 overs, but we are now sending down 20 to 25 overs. Bowling long spells on such tracks help you test your fitness, show your skills. The more you bowl, the better you get.”

Cause of concern                                                        

The series also exposed some chinks in the Indian armour. The biggest of them, of course, is the form of Ajinkya Rahane, arguably their most dependable batsman in overseas conditions. In five innings, he scored just 17 runs. Umesh Yadav, too, looked a bit off-colour in the two Tests he played. He bowled much slower than his usual pace and failed to trouble the Lankan line-up.

The spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja wasn’t as lethal as usual at home, taking 22 wickets between them in the series. Maybe the flat wickets took away a bit of their sting. Even then, the duo could have done better than picking up just two Lankan wickets in the last day of the last Test in Delhi. In South Africa, they are going to get even less aid from the wickets.

Rohit Sharma 
217 Runs, Avg 217

Virat Kohli 
610 Runs, Avg 152.50

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