India's bright start punctured by South Africa's relentless fire
And so they arrived, shunned their practice match, opted to go in for an all-inclusive net session. There was swagger in the way they moved around, swagger in the way they spoke in the press conferences. There was a purpose in the way captain Virat Kohli spoke, there was a quiet sense of brazenness in way coach Ravi Shastri went about addressing everyone around him; and then the match started; talks don't win matches, translating the talk into action does.
There is a strange sense of ticklish feeling, floating around everywhere before the commencement of every Test match. This was exaggerated before Newlands, plenty of names being thrown around, plenty of combinations being etched out, toss happened, India lost, handed a debut to Jasprit Bumrah, axed Ajinkya Rahane, benched Ishant Sharma and got to use the pitch.
For all the speculations around Capetown witnessing drought was music to Indian ears, the patches of green grass on the pitch enthused Bhuvneshwar Kumar, he pounded in. The first couple of deliveries sliding down the leg side, well, the same sinking feeling was about to flood back in, but what flooded back, were wickets, Kumar angled one across Dean Elgar, the left-hander poked at it, nicked it, India had now arrived.
Aiden Markram has plundered runs for fun ever since his debut. Test cricket was never meant to be a stroll in the park, yet the young man was humming along in his career, until today, when Bhuvneshwar Kumar pitched a couple of balls on off stump, got driven down the ground, was not hassled, angled on back in, ball pitched on the seam, hooped back in, trapped Markram in front, bang. Their talk before the match was translating into wickets.
Hashim Amla is seldom harried, his flowing mane helps, but he enters a bubble and is never coerced out of it. He was battling today, beaten on the very first ball, pinned on the thigh pads, blinked away, hope was taking place of buoyancy; Bhuvneshwar pushed one wide, Amla for some flummoxing reason went after it, edged it, Saha collected it, India had not only arrived, they had carved out a chunk of piece for themselves.
12 for 3. Not even half an hour of play had passed us.
“There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.”
? Mary Renault, The Charioteer
South Africa chose to bat, eyebrows were raised, now with three wickets down, there were furrowed ones, quizzical looks thrown around all over the place.
Albert Einstein summed up greatness when he said “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
Hence, when AB de Villiers stomped out, greatness followed him, he looked around, did not understand what the fuss was all about, used his bat and creamed the bowlers and eroded not only the shine off the ball, but also smacked some of the belief in the belly.
Faf du Plessis, his mate at the other end, pranced around, took blows, absorbed pressure, giggled with De Villiers and did not budge.
Together, they shrugged off the Indian bowlers, looked towards the dressing room, calm assurance surrounded the once manic place, cameras panned towards the Indian area, the shuffles were getting a bit more nervous.
Lunch: South Africa - 107/3 in 26.0 overs (AB de Villiers 59, F du Plessis 37)
In a matter of one hour, the wave had turned its tide, India were in a huddle, South Africa had AB and Faf, they were sipping tea.
De Villiers was cruising along, Faf was resolute, 114 runs they added and then against the run of play, Jasprit Bumrah got one to swerve back in, AB went for the drive, he missed it, he was shocked, not because of the stroke, but because he missed one ball, and yes he was castled.
Back in it was India, Faf was next to go, Hardik Pandya drew a false stroke, the visitors were back amongst the scheme of things.
But the towel was not yet thrown in, the lower order came in, churned out the runs, dragged the score along, oh, and India dropped a catch in the slips, the only chance which came by, South Africa were eventually bundled out for 286.
It should be noted here that the bravado led to a barrage of bouncers, it wasn’t wicket-taking balls, it was statements made, but these statements were only good for television. Wickets eluded them, runs kept flowing in, the final score was perhaps 60 runs too many.
Perhaps, Kohli would have grasped this score at the toss, perhaps Kohli would have laughed at everyone’s face when South Africa were reduced to 12 for 3.
Yet, remember the bravado which has become synonymous with this Indian team was not deflated. Not for the first four overs when Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan looked largely in control, not even when few balls flew past the outside edge, not when the bowlers shot mean glares at them, but it had handbrakes applied when Vijay, yes Vijay, the best leaver of balls outside the off stump, went after a full ball outside the off stump, booming drive alright, the outside edge flew to Dean Elgar at gully, and the fishnet, also known as the South African slip cordon swallowed it. No fuss!
Well, Kohli likes Shikhar Dhawan, he has all the reasons to. The southpaw scores runs quickly, he might win you matches in one session; Dhawan had watched AB counterattack, he had seen him go for his strokes and yield dividends, however, he picked just the wrong ball, a back of a length ball, Dhawan went for the pull, miscued it, Dale Steyn, after all those months of rehabilitation, did not want anyone near it and pouched it.
Well, bravado is good, but when it throws back glares at you, the hiding place becomes narrower.
Virat Kohli sauntered in, the crowd was roaring, perhaps baying for his blood. He began his innings well, covering the line well, raising his bat, no contact made, no alarm bells.
But then the big Morne Morkel hurled in, banged the ball on a length, got it to bounce, moved outside off stump, Kohli on his heels, his bat stuck out, the ball flies off the edge, Quinton de Kock ready, pouched it!
Yes, India had arrived, they spoke, they made the ball talk too, but by the end of the day, the very same bravado was punctured.
The mountains in the distance wore a very depleted look, reminding us about the extent of the drought, the peaks were there, alright but not the might, it was just not there.
As those peaks looked on, Kohli was sitting in the dugout, desolate, sapped, and worried, much the same, much the same!
"I don't know when the next Test series against India is, but it's probably the last time all of us (senior players) play against India and there's no better way than playing a series in South Africa. We were disappointed the last time we went there and we've got a score to settle, so we're excited for this series," Faf du Plessis had blared out before the day’s play.
Let’s then leave it here.
Day 2, we cannot wait!