Storm in a dust bowl: Smack the pitch up

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Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar started Day 2. Amla and Elgar ended Day 2. Not out. Only 20-wickets apart.

It spun. It spun square. It bounced, it crawled. It stopped, it skidded.

There are days that move a Test match forward. Day 2 at Nagpur threw the game into a tail-‘spin’. On a rank-turner South Africa failed miserable while India perished, again, thanks to some terrible shot making.

What kind of a horrible pitch is this? – Was the general outcry. It’s a difficult one. Okay, a very difficult one but certainly not a track that warranted scores of 215 all out, 79 all out, 173 all out and 32/2.

Skills are enough to play cricket but to survive a Test match, temperament is the key. Day 2 in Nagpur blatantly showcased the decaying temperament of the so called ‘modern’ batsmen.

The cricket world goes up-in-arms whenever India press the ‘home advantage’ button. However, nobody saw anything wrong in the pitch when India collapsed to 8/4 in Manchester — a track that was meant for the jersey cows from New Zealand, not batsmen.

Collapse on a green top — you aren’t good enough. Dance around like a clueless buffoon on a dust bowl — the wicket is ‘under-prepared’.

Defies logic, doesn’t it?

But before delving in the ‘Oh-what-a-bad-wicket’ war, go through the wickets that fell on Day 2 and analyse what actually crumbled — the pitch or batsmen with fragile temperament?

Elgar was the first to go and for the ‘nth’ time he undid his hard work by playing a horizontal bat shot on a turning track, a cardinal sin. Amla went down too early for the sweep to a delivery that was on the rise. No wonder, it took the back of the bat and looped up.

AB de Villiers did something he never does. Jadeja dug the ball in at pace and AB tried to play against the turn. Only VVS had the skills to do that. No, not even Sachin Tendulkar. Faf du Plessis has been on ‘mindless’ mode this series. Today, he went for the expansive drive over covers with Jadeja doing what he does best — not turning the ball. Through the gate and…BAM!

Dan Vilas can’t play spin so, moving on. Harmer got a peach from Ashwin but he’s not much of a batsman, is he?

JP Duminy looked good. He perhaps, was the best of the lot — got to the pitch of the ball, picked the variations and covered for the turn. However, his dismissal also had nothing to do with the track. Camping on the back foot, he missed the flight, read the length wrong and was a sitting duck.

Before moving on to the Indian batting, let’s applaud the Indian spin trio. Believe it or not, bowling on a ‘tailor-made’ track requires skill. Remember what happened to Vinay Kumar at Perth or Pankaj Singh in England?

The Indian spinners were spot on. Ravichandran Ashwin claimed his 14th five-for in 31 Tests – only a special talent can produce those unreal numbers.

Ravindra Jadeja is like weather. No team has a plan against him because they can’t. He jogs in with his shades on, rolls his arm over and then, things happen. Ask Michael Clarke. Amit Mishra is the supporting cast but the leggie sticks to his role — tosses it up, keeps it on a length and turns a mean googly.

Still, all out for 73? Come on.

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Let’s focus on the Indian batting now. In a refreshing change, the Indian bowling has covered for the batters throughout the series. Keep Murali Vijay aside and this batting line-up is wafer thin.

Shikhar Dhawan is a master of throwing it away. After surviving 78 deliveries, he reverse swept. Read again, he reverse swept. Pujara, uncharacteristically, played inside the line of a straight delivery. He hoped it would turn. It didn’t.

Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane though, need to take a hard look in the mirror. Kohli’s batting has stagnated. While Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith have reached the next level, Kohli is stuck into his fantasy world of ‘attacking’ cricket. Today, his shot against Tahir was, for lack of a better word, disgraceful.

Rahane is fast-tracking himself into the ‘Ian Bell’ mould – pretty batsman who plays the wrong shot at the wrong moments. His slip catching is world class but his slip-ups with the willow is concerning. Rohit Sharma is always on social media trial but when wickets tumbled, he held the fort together to stretch the lead past 300. Of course, his temperament still has massive question marks.

There’s no doubt the pitch at Nagpur is at its misbehaving best. It’s not a ‘proper’ wicket but was it impossible to bat on? The social media commentators are intolerant towards the track but maybe it’s time that the modern batsmen took stock of their hard hands, scrambled brains and feet that are stuck in clay.

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