Mumbai: India may well have shot themselves in the foot by not sending Test regulars to South Africa a few weeks before the first Test in Cape Town.
BCCI officials, and the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), had reportedly asked the team management if they wanted to send India's core Test players to South Africa ahead of schedule, even at the expense of the limited-overs’ series against Sri Lanka which preceded the tour. The proposal was declined by the team management, according to a report published in The Indian Express.
“The BCCI had offered Indian team management that the core group of Test team can be sent to South Africa early. Players like Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane are not part of limited-overs cricket and were playing local cricket here. The BCCI was ready to bear the cost, but team management showed no interest and declined the offer,” a BCCI official was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
“We were even ready to let top players skip One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Twenty20 (T20) legs of the series against Sri Lanka.”
Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar — all of who played the first Test in Cape Town — were part of the ODI and T20 squads against the islanders. Led by Rohit in the absence of skipper Virat Kohli — who had opted out due to his marriage — India won the ODI series 2-1 and swept the T20 encounters 3-0.
India's Test squad eventually left for South Africa on 28 December, four days before the start of first Test at Newlands. The team cancelled the one-off two-day practice game, opting instead for extra practice sessions. Also, in a first, the team carried rookie pacers Mohammed Siraj, Avesh Khan, Navdeep Saini and Basil Thampi as net bowlers.
While the move was inventive, it evidently didn’t work for the batsmen. India were shot out for 209 in the first innings, the score coming close to some amount of respectability thanks largely to Hardik Pandya’s lone fighting innings, before folding for 135 while chasing 208 in the second innings.
Sending players early to get used to the touring conditions is not unheard of in Indian cricket. Recently, the under-19 team, coached by Rahul Dravid, left for New Zealand more than two weeks before the U-19 World Cup. The early departure was a result of Dravid’s request to BCCI to ensure better acclimitisation.
The Newlands pitch, it must be noted, was difficult for batsmen as even the Proteas, with the exception of AB de Villiers, struggled to come to terms with the bounce and seam movement. South Africa were reduced to 12 for 3 inside five overs on the first morning, before the 114-run stand between de Villiers and skipper Faf du Plessis bailed them out. South Africa eventually won the Test by 72 runs, but skipper Kohli ruled out any talks of under-preparedness.
“We were very well prepared. I don’t think we felt any lack of preparation. Even they got out for 130 in the second innings and they play here all the time. It was a wicket where things were happening every day. And I think we let ourselves down with the bat, that’s for sure,” Kohli had said a day after India’s loss.
The second Test starts on 13 January in Centurion.