Feisty Rahane keeps fumbling India afloat


December 3, 2015

Brief Scorecard: India 231 for 7 (Rahane 89*, Piedt 4-101, Abbott 3-23) v South Africa

School children enjoy Test cricket live at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, December 3, 2015 © BCCI

December 3, 2015

Brief Scorecard: India 231 for 7 (Rahane 89*, Piedt 4-101, Abbott 3-23) v South Africa

School children enjoy Test cricket live at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, December 3, 2015 © BCCI

NEW DELHI – A wise man once said that 99% of statistics only tell 49% of the story. Looking at the numbers at the end of the first day’s play of the final India-South Africa Test, at the Ferozeshah Kotla, you could be forgiven for getting even less of the story than that. India finished on 231 for 7, fewer than what they would have hoped for when they won an important toss and batted, and many more than they might have anticipated after slumping to 139 for 6.

Looked at through the prism of traditional cricket numbers, South Africa will be overjoyed at their effort, having restricted India on a first-day pitch. When you gaze through the paradigm that has been established in this series, where 215 has been the highest score till Thursday (December 3), India will feel that they fought hard enough to put a par-plus score on the board.

In only the second over of the day, bowled by the tireless Kyle Abbott, it became clear that while this was no fifth-day pitch, it wasn’t going to be an easy one to bat on either. M Vijay had the awkward experience of one ball rearing up and the next ball shooting low, from pretty much the same length. Sensing that the occasion demanded hard graft, Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan dug deep, only 16 runs coming from 12 tight overs at the top. Vijay got a life when on 10, caught at slip off Abbott, only for the umpire to discover the bowler had overstepped. But he did not make it count, edging the offspin of Dane Piedt, playing his first Test of the series, to slip.

Dhawan began to build a partnership with Cheteshwar Pujara, but a brace of wickets allowed South Africa to claw ahead in the game. Dhawan (33) was nailed in front of the stumps by a straight one from Piedt and Pujara (14) left a wide bat-pad gap that was exploited by Abbott. At 66 for 3, a wobble was on, but Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli showed exactly the kind of application and heart that the captain has demanded from his team all series.

Ajinkya Rahane acknowledges his first fifty at home, India v South Africa.

Getting back to statistics, here’s one that confounded more than clarified the matter it dealt with. Before this innings, Rahane averged 7.83 with the bat at home. For someone who has played some defining innings in his yet young career, Rahane would have wanted to set the record straight, and he went some way in doing that, crafting a masterful unbeaten 89 to deny South Africa the opportunity of running through the Indian line-up.

If Rahane was backbone, Kohli was sinew, mastering conditions and opposition alike with a degree of control that has been seen only in passing in this series. Prepared to be patient in the knowledge that the loose ball was not far away, keen enough to pounce when opportunity presented itself and rock solid the rest of the time, Kohli extracted invaluable runs from a situation that was set up for the bowlers to dominate.

Kohli’s cover-driving was of the highest quality, and against the spinners it was an aesthete’s delight, each boundary coming from a stroke worthy of a statue carved in stone by one of the masters. Kohli was on the ascendancy, at 44, when a ball from Piedt begged to be belted. Kohli obliged, hitting the flat-batted sweep sweetly, but instead of a boundary came a wicket as the ball crashed into Temba Bavuma’s thigh at short-leg and ballooned up for Dane Vilas to dive and catch. The disappointment on Kohli’s face was palpable, a 70-run stand that look good for bigger things being broken precisely when India did not need it.

If a freak dismissal jolted India, a freakish talent’s insistence on dismissing himself lifted South Africa. Rohit Sharma hung his bat out outside offstump to Abbott off the fifth ball he faced, presenting Amla with a straightforward chance at slip, which was somehow grassed. Off the very next ball he faced, Rohit decided to hit Piedt out of the attack, playing a rustic heave even after seeing long-on stationed just for such an eventuality. Imran Tahir did not reprise Amla, and India were 138 for 5. Now here’s another statistic. Against West Indies, Rohit averages 288; against the rest of the world, he manages 23.38. On the evidence of this knock, the numbers aren’t lying in Rohit’s case.

Minutes after Rohit went back, Wriddhiman Saha had his stumps splayed by Abbott, who was reversing the ball with great skill and bowling exactly the right line and length for the surface.

Rahane battled on, having negotiated 154 balls for his unbeaten 89 when bad light stopped play. India had 231 and South Africa seven wickets: just the kind of numbers that allowed each camp to be happy, but neither to sleep well.

Courtesy: Wisden India