Test Cricket: India stumped by Elgar card in Mohali

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November 5, 2015

Brief Scorecard: South Africa 28 for 2 trail India 201 (Vijay 75, Jadeja 38, Elgar 4-22) by 173 runs

India regained a little bit of ground by the time stumps were drawn, reducing South Africa to 28 for 2. © BCCI

November 5, 2015

Brief Scorecard: South Africa 28 for 2 trail India 201 (Vijay 75, Jadeja 38, Elgar 4-22) by 173 runs

India regained a little bit of ground by the time stumps were drawn, reducing South Africa to 28 for 2. © BCCI

MOHALI, PUNJAB –This was a day-one surface like no other at the PCA Stadium. Dry and slightly crumbly to the touch, of uncertain bounce and no great pace. Tailor-made, any which way you looked at it, from an Indian perspective.

They say sometimes you should be careful what you wish for, for it might come true. India’s prayers were answered alright in terms of what kind of surface they desired, but their recent failings against even less than top quality spin once again lay exposed on day one of the first Test on an eventful Thursday (November 5).

The Indian dressing room must have lit up with broad grins when Hashim Amla called wrong at the coin-toss, but a little over five hours later, it was the South African camp that was doing all the smiling. Using the very part-time left-arm spin of Dean Elgar as the unlikely surprise weapon, South Africa made deep inroads into the Indian batting line-up in the most Indian of conditions, spoiling Virat Kohli’s 27th birthday by sending the hosts crashing to 201 all out.

It wasn’t, it must be stressed, a 201 all out kind of pitch. There was turn for the spinners but it wasn’t particularly alarming or at any great pace. India were undone more by their own diffidence against the turning ball, this after M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara – preferred to Rohit Sharma – had given them an excellent platform by putting on 63 for the second wicket to offset the second-over dismissal of Shikhar Dhawan.

India did regain a little bit of ground by the time stumps were drawn, reducing South Africa to 28 for 2 with Elgar and Amla holding nervy fort, still 173 behind. If India’s batsmen were guilty of playing strokes with abandon, South Africa paid a heavy price for not offering strokes at all. R Ashwin trapped Stiaan van Zyl palpably in front as the batsman chose to let a straight ball hit him on the pad, and Ravindra Jadeja marked his comeback to Test cricket with a wicket off his second delivery, Faf du Plessis letting one go and seeing another straighter one hit the outside of his offstump.

Vijay alone of the top-order Indian batsmen, and Pujara to a slightly lesser extent, displayed the application that the first day of a Test series called for. The rest were guilty of playing extravagant strokes on a surface they all should have known would not encourage extravagance. Playing late and close to the body were absolute necessities; Dhawan, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane all chose a different path, and found out the hard way that you can’t try to buck the trend just for the sake of it.

Elgar has no great pretensions to being a spinner. In 17 previous Tests, he had bowled only 69.1 overs – 22 of them in one innings alone – and wouldn’t even have expected to get a bowl, what with Simon Harmer and Imran Tahir the lead spinners in a five-pronged bowling attack that included Kagiso Rabada, the debutant. It was something of a surprise when Amla threw the ball to Elgar in the 22nd over, but it turned out to be a masterstroke as Elgar trapped Pujara in front with a straight delivery that hastened through on pitching.

Until that moment, India had looked in good hands despite Dhawan’s ill-advised adventurism. In the middle of a somewhat middling run, Dhawan flashed hard at Vernon Philander, trying to force him off the back foot even though he was cramped for room. The resultant edge was gobbled up by Amla at first slip, India one down without a run on the board.

Pujara, back at his favoured No. 3 position as the team management decided to reward him for his unbeaten 145 as makeshift opener in Colombo two months back, looked assured even as Vijay did what he does best – leave balls outside off, time after time. There was early swing for Dale Steyn and Philander, but Vijay’s judgement was impeccable. Only when he was confident he had covered the swing did he play flowing drives; Pujara, at the other end, was quick to seize on any opportunity to score when the ball was pitched up to him, and Dhawan’s dismissal was beginning to become a distant memory when Amla unleashed the Elgar card.

Harmer had already bowled five useful but hardly threatening overs – truth to tell, the offie seldom looked threatening – when Elgar arrived, somewhat awkward and clumsy but most certainly effective. In his first 19 deliveries in India, he had accounted for Pujara, Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha on his way to career-best figures of 4 for 22. Mind-boggling, really.

Kohli strode in all purpose and intent, but his stay lasted just four minutes and four balls before he joined Pujara in the change-room. Looking to drive Rabada through the line, the Indian captain checked his stroke as ball stopped on him. As the bat face closed, the ball lobbed towards cover, where Elgar dived forward to take a smart low catch.

For over an hour after that, Vijay and Rahane provided calm and stability in stitching together 37 for the fourth wicket, but Rahane’s drive to a full length ball in Elgar’s first comeback over set the cat among the pigeons. The ball turned off the rough, caught the outside edge and nestled in Amla’s hands at slip, a sequence that was to repeat itself off the first ball of Elgar’s next over when Saha made his exit.

India were five down for 102, but Vijay wasn’t fazed. He batted with the greatest fluency, his footwork pleasing on the eye as he got down to the pitch of the ball at the first hint of flight, or went deep into his crease when the ball was dropped even marginally short. There were flowing drives and delicate dabs as he dominated a stand of 38 with Jadeja, when one sweep too many against Harmer proved his downfall.

Amla didn’t bring Tahir on till the 44th over, but he perhaps didn’t feel the need to, what with the other bowlers all chipping in. Amit Mishra holed out to Elgar and Rabada seemed to have doubled his Test tally when he won a shout for leg before against Ashwin, only for replays to show that he had overstepped. Ashwin made the most of that let-off, adding 42 in Jadeja’s company as the spin twins showed the top order the way to go on a slow turner.

Towards the end of that stand, Philander repeatedly got the ball to duck back into Jadeja and rap him on the pad. A succession of appeals were turned down by Richard Kettleborough before the finger eventually went up, after which Tahir cleaned up Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron with identical googlies that snuck through the gate. It was almost surreal as India were bowled out on the first day of the home Test for the first time since Ahmedabad in 2008 – also against South Africa, when they only mustered 76.

It was pace and Steyn that had done the trick then. This time around, it was spin that accounted for seven of the 10 wickets, on a surface that will deteriorate as the game unspools. Friday should throw up even more entertainment.


Courtesy: Wisden India