Before I begin,
If you do not follow cricket, this post might not be for you. I am sorry; I had resolved to write lesser about cricket, but who can explain to bawra mann?
Also, if you’re the kind whose general reaction to everything in life is ‘Tu karke dikha’ – kindly stop reading. The only way to go from there is to bang one’s head against the wall.
I cannot play for India. I do not wish to play for India, and even if I did, the closest I could get to the pitch is the cheap tickets in Barabati Stadium. But that does not mean I cannot have an opinion on matters. We are human beings after all, and prone to anger and rants.
If you looked at the scorecard decades from now, the picture you will get of the Test match is of India folding up in two and a half days to a ferocious South African line-up. However, unlike T20 cricket, Test cricket thrives in between the lines of the scorecard. The intervals between overs, an inspired bowling change that runs through line-ups.
What the scorecard will not show decades later, is that India actually had a chance to win the match. There were a few sessions where you’d assume India was going to win it. When I closed my eyes, I could see Kohli taking off his shirt and dancing to ‘Tenu suit suit karda’, as Shikhar Dhawan does the bhangra next to him (where, unlike while batting, his footwork is impeccable).
While we are on the topic, let us begin at the top of the order.
1. Shikhar Dhawan
It’s baffling what he’s doing at the crease. He seems woefully out of touch, and to his credit, stuck to his natural game. However, a lot has been said about this ‘playing your natural game’ bullshit; what they don’t tell you is that greatness is about adapting. If playing one’s natural game was such a great trait, Venkatesh Prasad should be among the greatest batsman. The man played his natural game for 15 years – to hold the bat and swing it like a drunk Amazonian Shamans driving away spirits. He was picked over KL Rahul, a player with a decent overseas record, and the next few weeks seem difficult for Gabbar Singh.
2. Murali Vijay
I actually quite like Vijay, simply for the reason that he has the ability to leave balls consistently. Anybody can hit the ball, but to watch the ball leave the bowler’s hand, follow the trajectory, track the lateral movement, judge the bounce, and then let it go – is an intricate skill that requires the practice of a shaolin master and the temperament of a monk.
In this Test however, Murali turned up as Vijay in Puli, slashing at everything outside Off Stump. Even though he will definitely be picked for the Second Test, Murali needs to stop being Vijay and start being Arjun Rampal – wooden.
3. Cheteshwar Pujara
Pujara is the last of a generation.
A breed of batsmen who play to save matches. Who will take everything you throw at him, and softly knock them down. Amidst gladiators and butchers, he’s a calligraphy artist sitting under the shade of a mosque. Pujara doesn’t rake in the moolah in T20 leagues, he isn’t seen in ads and interviews. He simply takes guard and leaves balls.
Pujara couldn’t build on solid starts in the first Test. And even when he does, he takes as much time as Shah Jahan took to build the Taj. Pujara needs to step up, as he’ll be our mainstay Test batsman in the grueling tours to England and Australia.
4. Virat Kohli
Since becoming the Captain, Virat Kohli has been going through a beautiful, psychedelic purple patch. Centuries, double-centuries, interviews with Gaurav Kapur that show his softer side – it was all going smooth for Cheeku.
But being the captain of the Indian team is the most stressful job in the country. Virat Kohli has to juggle his impeccable form, a team that often turns up like it’s hungover from a Bacherlors’ Party the previous night, and alien conditions.
Kohli looked solid in both the innings. Unlike his other brethren, Kohli didn’t mistake batting for fishing. He was middling the ball well and even counter-attacked the ball in patches.
I know it is easy to comment in hindsight, but Kohli’s choices with the bowling department actually gave us whatever chances we had of winning the match. However, his choices in the batting department seemed like a friendly school captain picking his favorites.
5. Rohit Sharma
Mr. Super Talent.
Mr. Super Duper Earth-shattering Orgasm-inducing Talent.
Never wins us matches in difficult conditions.
In spite of all his one-day heroics, I not a huge fan of the Hitman, because pressure gets the better off him. He’s great when the pitch is flat as a highway and India is batting first against West Indies in Haridwar.
But you cannot select a player to an away Test series, based on his One-Day form in Vadodara. It defies all sorts of logic, even that of ‘current form’ that Kohli spoke about after the match. A lot has been said about Sharma’s ‘natural game’, but I think it is more about ‘natural conditions’.
Rahane might not hit the double-hundreds and blow kisses to his wife. He might not be the captain of the richest IPL side. He might not be the sort who appears in ads for children in supermarkets.
But he’s a better Test batsman.
6. Hardik Pandya
A dream Test debut, except for the fact that India lost the match in two and a half days.
It is difficult to expect Pandya to apply himself and play the waiting game. Some things just don’t work like that. Can you imagine asking Sehwag to sit with you through a game of Brainvita? He would break the plastic board and shove the marbles up your alimentary canal.
It is the same with Pandya. His contribution with the bat at the lower order is extremely important, and could change matches. In fact, the only time South Africa looked vulnerable in the match was when he was on song.
Sure call-in for the next Test.
7. Wriddhiman Saha
Adbhut, adamya. Saahas ki pari-bhaasa hai
Ye mitati maanavta ki aasha hai
Foreign pitches pe, yeh magician hai
Ye insaan nahi nahi hai ye avtar hai
(Wriddhi Wriddhi Wriddhimaan…Wriddhi Wriddhi Wriddhimaan).
Wriddhiman is a strange creature. The face of a horse, the temperament of an elephant, the batting skills of an orangutan. Wriddhiman Saha displayed all the composure of a newly-married man in his in-laws house for the first time.
He flashed at balls that he thought he could smash. He blocked balls that turned their face away like a miffed girlfriend. He poked at balls that turned and zipped. He did whatever the fuck he wanted.
He is a good keeper, but his batting is the stuff of art. I wish he remains in the team just so I can see him bat. It’s cathartic and self-harming at the same time. Like Main Hoon Indra the Tiger on Zee Cinema at 11:30 in the night.
8. R. Ashwin
Another bowler who is Aamir Khan on home pitches, but quickly transforms to Kamaal Khan on away pitches. R. Ashwin however, brings in a lot more than his bowling – his calm, zen-like batting. His technique seemed stronger than anybody else’s in the team. And it isn’t even his main skill.
In fact, I wonder what could be the main skill of a spinner on fast, bouncy South African pitches? Ashwin will continue to remain in the team, and should look to quickly go through the overs and remember that life is an interval between pain and pleasure. That he needs to grin and bear it and see out 2018, and Srini Mama will organise four tournaments with Zimbabwe and Gwalior.
9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar
The only potential match-winner in the team, it is hard to dislike Bhuvi.
He bats like his life depends on it. He swings the ball both ways. And is probably the first Indian pacer to add a few yards of pace to his bowling without losing his ability to swing the ball.
Unlike the batsmen of the team who are all bravado and Chak De and moustache-twirling, thigh-slapping mushtande, I like how the bowlers in the Indian team carry themselves. They are quiet, unassuming, and go about their job without any hungama. In their company, even Pandya looks like he’s read a few Paulo Coelho books to keep up.
10. Mohammed Shami
I doubt there are any Shami fans in the country. The guy looks like a carpenter you’d call on Urban Clap, has no histrionics to offer, and runs in and bowls fast like a disciplined, hardworking IITian.
In fact, the only times Shami is in the news is when moronic Muslims troll him on Twitter. I wonder if it gets to him. A lackluster test for the man, but still a better bet than Ishant Sharma. Shami has never played for long stretches of time due to injuries, and once shudders at the thought of him being dropped for Ishant Sharma.
Ishant Sharma is only in the team because he doesn’t get injured. And Shami is absent from the team only when injured.
11. Jasprit Bumrah
A surprise package that could be dropped for Umesh Yadav in the second Test, this is Bumrah’s first grueling tour. In the next few months, Jasprit will realise what it means to be an Indian fast bowler.
What it means to be clobbered around by opposition batsmen in spite of the conditions offering pace and bounce. What it means to look around the ground and find none of the other pacers want to have a go.
While the bowling unit over-performed throughout the Test, India’s batsmen look like they came on a family tour to South Africa that was sponsored by the State Bank of India. Half the batsmen through their wickets away. KL Rahul and Rahane were left out for two swashbuckling batsmen who didn’t really swash their buckles.
The second Test will be the real Test. Questions will be raised. Fingers will be pointed. Blood will be bayed for.
And oh, somebody pointed out that Kohli’s average after marriage is 16.5 !!