India's much-anticipated Test series in South Africa, often referred to as the “final frontier,” has started on a challenging note and skipper Rohit Sharma concedes the same. The team faced a significant setback in the first Test at Centurion, succumbing to an innings and 32 runs defeat within just three days.
This result has sparked a debate over India's preparation strategy, particularly their preference for intra-squad games over traditional first-class matches.
Captain Rohit Sharma, addressing the media post-match, defended the team's approach. “We've tried various methods over the years, including first-class matches. However, the practice pitches rarely mimic match conditions,” he explained.
Rohit recalled instances from previous tours, including Australia and South Africa in 2018, where practice pitches did not offer the same challenges as those in actual Test matches.
Rohit Sharma expressed confidence in his team
Despite the defeat, Rohit remained confident in his team's abilities, especially in batting. “Our performances in Australia and England are testament to our skills. Sometimes, the opposition just outplays you,” he remarked.
India did show resilience in their first innings, putting up a total of 245 in tough batting conditions. However, the inability to sustain pressure with the ball, particularly from the support bowlers, proved costly.
The spotlight was on debutant Prasidh Krishna and Shardul Thakur, who conceded 194 runs in 39 overs for just two wickets. Rohit chose not to be overly critical, emphasizing the need to support the bowlers. “Games like this are learning experiences. We need to understand what went wrong and come back stronger,” he said.
Prasidh, playing only his 13th first-class match, was seen as a potential tall, hit-the-deck bowler in the mold of Ishant Sharma.
However, his lack of experience, coupled with a recent injury, seemed to have impacted his performance. “It's about the mindset more than experience,” Rohit added, showing faith in Prasidh's potential.
In a move to bolster the bowling attack, uncapped fast bowler Avesh Khan has been called up to the squad for the second Test in Cape Town, replacing the injured Mohammed Shami. Avesh, who has been impressive in domestic cricket and the India A tour, adds depth to the pace attack.
India's woes were compounded by a penalty for slow over-rate, resulting in a deduction of two World Test Championship points and a 10% match fee fine. This setback has pushed India down to sixth place on the WTC points table.
As the team gears up for the second Test starting on January 3, the focus will be on adapting to the conditions and rectifying the mistakes from Centurion. The series, albeit challenging, presents an opportunity for India to showcase their resilience and ability to bounce back under pressure.