The Indian team has had just four days to mend their hearts from the 72-run crushing defeat they suffered on Monday at the hands of South Africa in the first Test. And now is upon them at an incredibly fast pace the second game that starts in Centurion from Saturday.
India, world’s number Test team in the ICC rankings, had failed to chase down an innocuous-looking 208 runs at Newlands in Cape Town, leaving many fans in utter disbelief. Jasprit Bumrah may say one such debacle doesn’t dent the confidence of a team but in all honesty, history suggests otherwise. There have been very few sides overcoming such losses.
It’s not the defeat, it’s the manner in which Virat Kohli’s men lost that is likely to haunt the rest of the tour for them. The South Africa tour was already going to be difficult for the Indian team but the visitors, high on their nine successive Test series wins (largely at home), would have backed themselves to chase down that target in the lead-up to the first game of the three-game rubber. Fans would have backed them too, but now it turns out both were mistaken.
The opportunities like the one in Cape Town don’t present themselves often and the Indian team management must be aware of that. Former batsman Virender Sehwag already believes the series is as good as gone for the Indian team. And he is not saying it just like that; he knows from experience what such losses do to your morale. So, it will be a Herculean task for the visitors to erase the bad memories from Cape Town and start afresh. The mental-up of the Indian players in this game will decide whether or not they will be equal to the task at SuperSport Park.
One of the biggest issues India are facing ahead of the game is whether or not to bring back Ajinkya Rahane, one of the best Indian batsmen on the road in the last few years. Rohit Sharma, who slogged away for 21 runs across two innings at Newlands, turned out to be a bad punt and it will be interesting to see if Kohli decides to go in with him again, especially in light of the criticism he faced following Rahane’s exclusion.
The general perception so far is that the Indian team will be greeted by hostile pitches all through the series and that may make R Ashwin insecure a bit but he also brings plenty of usefulness as a lower-order batsman. And that fact might just retain him in the starting XI. Be that as it may, he won’t sleep soundly tonight, and Umesh Yadav & Ishant Sharma are likely to keep him company, although for a totally opposite reason altogether.
The defeat at Cape Town has scarred fans and the last thing Kohli and Co. can expect is forgiveness from them. The only way they can endear themselves back to them is through a much better performance. They will have to avoid a defeat in this game at all costs. Anything less than that will bring down their stock, probably irreparably.