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Virat Kohli's wedding celebrations, records vs Sri Lanka — where was the time to prepare for South Africa?

This defeat came after a magical journey.

 |  4-minute read |   09-01-2018
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Team India got back to work after the fairytale wedding of their captain and were dealt a rude wake-up call by arguably the fiercest bowling attack in the world.

On a pitch that afforded pace, bounce and movement, India were blown away. Their batsmen, some of the most prolific scorers over the last two years, were a far cry from the world-class players they are supposed to be.

Consequently, despite some spirited performances by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and a sensational all-round display by Hardik Pandya, India lost the opening Test to South Africa in Cape Town in three days of play. The third day was washed out due to rain and 18 wickets fell in 64 overs on the fourth - yet India somehow managed to find a way to fall short of their 208-run target by 72 runs.

This defeat came after a magical journey. Since August 2015, India had lost only two Tests - one against Sri Lanka and the other against Australia. They had won nine consecutive series against Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand, England, Australia and Bangladesh - barring two tours of Sri Lanka and the one to the West Indies, all the other triumphs had come at home but the team's remarkable consistency and the players' fitness created glimmers of hope.

And thus, India were all set to embark on a long season of Test cricket away from home - to places such as South Africa, England and Australia. Hope, confidence and ruthlessness were the new buzzwords.

Preparation was a keyword but where were the actual hard yards to gear up for overseas tours? In the absence of a long enough break, India had to make do with meaningless matches against Sri Lanka.

kl-690_010918094840.jpgSurely, India did not need Ravi Shastri to sit in the dressing room as Rohit took apart the Sri Lankan bowlers to set new records? Photo: Reuters

And what do they do? The Indian management asks for green pitches in Kolkata, Nagpur and Delhi - venues for the three season-ending Test matches. The closest they got to alien conditions was the Eden Gardens pitch where India's vaunted batting line-up failed in the first innings as Suranga Lakmal carved up the top-order with a blistering spell.

In Nagpur and Delhi, on flat pitches, Virat Kohli went on a record-breaking spree, Murali Vijay made a joyous return and Rohit Sharma smashed a hundred in his first Test in over a year. Who cared about South Africa or Steyn or Rabada or Philander or Morkel? Or Newlands? Or pace?

India thought they were prepping up for a tough tour the best way they could. Never mind the flat decks or the listless opposition, who perhaps wanted to get back to the safety of their country after battling the pollution in Delhi.

And then came that wedding - Kohli, who needed rest but also ideally wanted time to prepare in South Africa, flew out to Italy to marry Anushka Sharma. A honeymoon in Finland, two receptions in Delhi and Mumbai, Kohli dancing with his teammates, wonderful pictures going viral on social media - who cared about South Africa?

There was more - the newlyweds travelled to South Africa to ring in the new year. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, with poor, embarrassing Test match records overseas, too travelled with their wives and spent some quality family time before the first Test got underway.

No one grudges any of thse players some family time. But where was the preparation? For a gruelling tour like this, they should have put their heads down to business with more purpose and more intensity. India chose not to play a practice match and instead decided to hold extended net sessions where they could control their own preparations - but is that enough to prepare for such a tough tour?

As you look at that shambolic performance in Newlands, you would wonder why the Test specialists, who were not part of the ODIs and T20Is against Sri Lanka, not in South Africa to prepare? What were the coaching staff doing in India when a few of them could have been in South Africa to assess conditions and prepare a roadmap?

Surely, India did not need Ravi Shastri to sit in the dressing room as Rohit took apart the Sri Lankan bowlers to set new records?

Wait, all of them, were in town, lined up to attend the captain's wedding reception. A day before setting sail for a tough tour - South Africa nonetheless.

All successful touring teams - whether it's England, Australia or South Africa - spend enough time in similar conditions to get used to conditions they know they will encounter.

Australia have appointed Ricky Ponting as assistant coach for the upcoming T20I series against New Zealand and England? Why? Because head coach Darren Lehmann will travel with his support staff to prepare for a Test series in March. That is preparation.

India might well bounce back and their batsmen might just put up a better show in Centurion next week, but first impressions matter on such tours. Barring Pandya and the pacers, all the world got to see was a disappointing and unprofessional batting performance. Why? Because there was no time to prepare after the record-breaking spree against Sri Lanka and the festivities of the captain's wedding.

A tour of South Africa? Who cares?

Also read: On one year of Dhoni quitting as captain, my tryst with 'MSDestiny'

Writer

Rajarshi Gupta Rajarshi Gupta @rajarshigupta_8

Cricket writer and enthusiast who has spent nearly a decade in cricket journalism.

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