Bowlers will be in focus again

Bowlers will be in focus again

After a fine show in Newlands more will be expected of them in Centurion

Bowlers will be in focus again

Bowlers, cricket's poor cousins to batsmen, proudly underscore the fact that a Test match is always won by them and the reason being unless you bowl a side out twice in a match, you can't win a Test. A team can post a total of 900 but if their bowlers can't dismiss 20 rival batsmen, those runs are worthless.

On occasions, you end up on the losing side despite taking 20 opponents' wickets because your batsmen fail to muster enough runs. India suffered a similar fate in the first Test at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town where their bowlers kept South Africa to 286 and 130 all out but their batsmen dished out a performance that belied their reputation.

On a difficult pitch, which the local players felt was faster than normally it is at Newlands, the Indian batsmen failed the pace Test to lose a golden chance of winning. As they come to Centurion for the second Test (starting Saturday), they will have to make some quick amends as there is not going to be any let-up in the hostility from the hosts. Having seen the Indian batsmen struggle against a four-pronged pace attack, South Africa have given enough indication of going out with a similar combination with the playing surface at SuperSport Park expected to be as spicy as Newlands if not more.

India can draw inspiration from their drawn series in 2010 when they rallied in splendid fashion to level the series in Durban. After watching the Indian batsmen wilt in the face of pace and bounce of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel here in the first Test, which MS Dhoni's men lost by an innings and 25 runs, the Proteas opted for a livelier pitch at Kingsmead but the tactic flew in the face of everything they thought. With Zaheer Khan back in the mix, India humbled Graeme Smith's men by 87 runs with the veteran claiming six wickets for the match and often setting the tone with timely breakthroughs.

While the defeat was painful for the Indian bowlers, they can take heart in the fact that they have an attack that is as lethal as it is versatile. They may not be as fast as Proteas' paceman but they are quick enough to hustle the home batsmen; their bouncers may not be as lethal but they are effective to keep the batsmen on their toes and when it comes to skills, they are equally impressive.

"When I saw the names that came over, you almost look at what they will offer in these conditions," Faf du Plessis said of the Indian pacers. "You know they've also got variety in these conditions. They've got guys that can swing the ball, guys that can seam the ball around and they've also got a bit of pace. It's similar to our attack. So, I'm not surprised. We wanted the wicket to be a little bit like that, so we expected the wicket to be a bit more bowler friendly," the SA skipper explained.

The Indian pacers have, in the past, always struggled to hit the right lengths in these conditions, often getting carried away by the bounce and losing sight of the fact that these batsmen are good backfoot players. The quartet of Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya didn't completely follow this rule in the first innings and let South Africa off the hook despite having the down at 12/3. They made quick corrections in the second and got handsome results. The challenge, though, is to keep up the good work and of course for the batsmen to shed their image of flat-track bullies. "They (pacers) know that they can repeat that performance and if we get a lively wicket again we can exploit those conditions but we need to be better with the bat, there is no question about that," skipper Virat Kohli stressed.

"We need to show more character with that bat, the bowlers are bowling really well, and if they continue with the same and if we step up with the batting, we have a good chance of creating result opportunities again," he hoped.

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