Indian captain M.S. Dhoni said the defeat to South Africa in the first Test — India’s first loss in 15 Tests and its first at home since April 2008 — was a consequence of Dale Steyn’s “amazing” bowling performance.
“I think we were blown away by Dale Steyn,” said Dhoni. “When you lose three of your top seven batsmen it’s difficult to come back into the game but we did decently (in the first innings) till the ball got changed after tea. Luckily they got a ball that was really reverse swinging.
“That doesn’t stop me from giving credit to Steyn. In the last 12 months this was the best display of conventional swing bowling as far as I am concerned. And his channels when bowling reverse swing were very good.”
The Harris factor
Asked about the difficulties of batting against left-arm spinner Paul Harris, who aimed at the bowlers’ footmarks outside the line of the leg-stump, Dhoni said, “He’s not a big turner of the ball, so sometimes they go straight from that line.
“He can really bind one end for them. He’s one bowler who can bowl 30 overs out of the 90 days in the day and you can’t afford to block everything. But at the same time there are not plenty of shots you can offer to that line of attack. When it comes off you look really good, when it doesn’t it looks like a rash shot.”
Inability to reverse swing
Speaking on India’s bowling, Dhoni said the inability to trigger reverse swing had hurt his fast bowlers. “In the first innings there was a bit of turn, but we couldn’t get the reverse swing going,” said Dhoni.
“It never happened for us, and it became really tough for the fast bowlers to either contain them or get them out.”
Dhoni didn’t see any reason to worry about Harbhajan Singh however.
“He’s a great bowler and I’m not worried,” he said.
“You’ve always seen him come back in big games; he’s a big-game player. He’s got the experience because of which he knows exactly what to do.”
Missing Laxman, Dravid
Dhoni expressed hope that V.V.S. Laxman would recover before the second Test. “Test cricket is tough and if you miss your key players you’re slightly on the back foot,” he said.
“We missed Dravid and Laxman but you have to play with best available men. It didn’t work here but it doesn’t mean our players are not good enough.”
South African captain Graeme Smith said his side succeeded because it didn’t make the mistake of playing a completely different style just because the conditions were vastly different from what it’s used to.
“It is important to play our style of cricket,” said Smith. “We can’t come here and play India’s style of cricket. We have to adapt but play our style of cricket.
“I think we did that very well throughout the game and used our bowlers in short spells. Hashim (Amla) was great at number three. More than anything else the energy the guys showed, the mental energy, was great.”
Deserves top spot
Asked if South Africa deserved the top spot, Smith said, “It’s a tough one but I think we deserve it more as we’ve won around the world more.
“We’ve not just won games in South Africa, in South African conditions. We’ve beaten England in England, won in Australia, even won a Test here, in India. We’ve travelled very well and that’s been the difference.”
On the possibility of playing on a rank turner track in Kolkata, Smith joked, “So what are you telling me? There is a guy with a rake at Eden Gardens?” before adding, “India has more control over the conditions. I don’t think anything will surprise us going into Kolkata. We just have to recover our mental energy, this has taken a lot out of us, and we’ll be ready.”