The worst fears of the Indian cricket fan came true at Johannesburg. Although India headed to South Africa on a high, there was a definite feeling that it was a false sense of relief. India had achieved all their success on home turf against weak Australian and West Indies sides. Also, India went into the opening ODI on Thursday without any practice since they had just arrived in the country a few days back. The inexperience in both the bowling and batting department showed, and the entire team looked pretty much undercooked.
Having won the toss and elected to bowl, India needed a few early strikes to gain confidence, but neither Mohit Sharma nor Bhuvneshwar Kumar posed any kind of problems for the South African openers. But, we cannot really blame either of them as neither has any experience of playing in such pacy, bouncy conditions against top opponents. All their previous performances have been against weaker teams. Bhuvneshwar was part of the triumphant Champions Trophy squad in England, but conditions over there weren’t as challenging. There are still two ODIs left for them to make a mark, but the lack of pace in case of both could prove to be a hindrance.
Following his wonderful debut back in India, many eyes were on Mohammed Shami, who had a bit more pace that the earlier two mentioned names. And the difference was immediately visible when he came on to bowl. Shami got better response from the pitch owing to his speed, and even grabbed three wickets. However, South Africans are used to his kind of bowling, and like in the case of Kumar and Sharma, his experience also led to leakage of many runs. In the end, all three of India’s pace bowlers went for bit too many. MS Dhoni said he expected better from them, but you cannot expect rookies to perform in all kinds of conditions, can you?
India dearly missed an experienced pace bowler in such conditions. They have Ishant Sharma in the squad, but he wouldn’t have done much better considering his present form and state of mind. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have done exceedingly well in Indian conditions, but spin isn’t going to be much effective in South Africa in spite of the obvious fact that the Proteas are poor against spinners. The ease with which Jadeja and Ashwin were dealt with at Johannesburg will make India wonder whether they can afford two spinners in the side.
The Indian batting also, almost explicably, came short. Rohit Sharma looked far from the supreme batsman he was in India. The manner in which he was embarrassed by Dale Steyn, he will have to do exceedingly well to prove his worth in all conditions. Shikhar Dhawan hit a few crisp boundaries, but learnt that outright aggression doesn’t work in all conditions. Virat Kohli and Dhoni looked the most comfortable of Indian batsmen, but unless Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina show some spark, India will struggle for the rest of the series. The series is only one-game old, but a lot of questions have risen following India’s shoddy all-round effort.
--By A Cricket Analyst