Rohit Sharma backs under-fire bowlers after three-day loss in Centurion

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India’s Test series in South Africa was being billed as the “final frontier”, but when a team loses the match in 210 overs, questions are bound to be around the preparation. India’s preference for an intra-squad game over a proper first-class match or practice match came into question after their defeat in the first Test by an innings and 32 runs, but their captain Rohit Sharma outright dismissed the idea because it is not in the hosts’ interests to give the opposition the best practice.

“We have been playing practice matches for the last five-six years,” he said. “We have even tried first-class matches, but we don’t get these kind of wickets in practice matches. It’s better we prepare on our own, make the pitch we want. When we last went to Australia, when we came to South Africa in 2018, the ball didn’t bounce above the knee on those pitches. In the Test, it flies above the head.

“Keeping these things in mind, we decided we would prepare in our own way. If you get the conditions in practice matches that you get in [Test] matches, then it is a different matter. But we have seen on the last three-four tours that we don’t get those conditions in practice matches. Even the bowlers bowl 120-125kph. We have experienced that in the last two-three practice matches that we have played on away tours.

“That’s why it is better we play our own bowlers, and make the pitch the way we want it.”

While Rohit’s larger point might stand, on India’s last tour of Australia they faced Sean Abbott and Mitchell Swepson, both part of the Test squad, on a pretty spicy surface where 194 and 108 were scored in the first two innings. India didn’t even play a practice match in South Africa in 2017-18, their first tour there in four years.

The annoying fact-check out of the way, it wasn’t probably the batting that let India down, although it always looks so when a team gets bowled out twice in a little over 100 overs. Rohit reiterated the quality of this batting line-up.

“Prasidh has played a lot of white-ball cricket for us in the last two or three years, and he has shown that he has got a lot of potential. Obviously, it didn’t work out well for him playing his first game, but we all were nervous when we played our first game”

Rohit Sharma

“We might have put in this performance here, but don’t forget what we did in Australia and England,” he said. “We won the series in Australia on the back of our batting. We drew the series in England through our batting and bowling both. These performances can happen. It doesn’t mean we don’t know how to bat outside India. Sometimes the opposition performs better than us. I think on those terms. The opposition played better than us. That’s why they won. Not that we couldn’t bat even 110 overs. Go and check the results over the last four years or last four tours.”

India did, in fact, bat well in extremely challenging conditions to score 245 in the first innings, which many believed was a good total. For a while it looked that way when Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj looked unplayable with the new ball, seaming it around corners, drawing 26 false responses in 11 overs. However, it resulted in only one edge that went to hand, and after that the support bowlers couldn’t keep the pressure up.

Shardul Thakur, in his 11th Test, and Prasidh Krishna, on debut, went for 194 runs between them in just 39 overs for two wickets, numbers not par for the course in such conditions as India’s second innings showed. Rohit chose not to be harsh on them. Probably because there is no magic wand to bring other bowlers, who will be successful in a week’s time. It is of course time to back them, at least in public.

“Bumrah bowled well,” Rohit said. “We all know his quality. All he wanted was a bit of support from the other side, which he didn’t get. To be honest, that happens [once in a while]. All the other three bowlers, they were trying really hard, bending their back, but it just didn’t work out. Didn’t happen the way we would have wanted to. But again, games like this teach you a lot of things, what you need to do as a group, as a bowling group. Hopefully, they can understand what went wrong, and then try and come back a little stronger from this game.”

Not only was this Prasidh’s debut but also his only 13th first-class match. He had probably been earmarked as an Ishant Sharma-like tall bowler you need to hit the deck hard, but he spent most of the year on the sidelines with an injury. When Mohammed Shami injured himself during the World Cup run, it left India with no choice but to take a punt on him. Prasidh bowled like, well, someone playing his 13th first-class match and only his second in 21 months.

“Look, a little bit inexperience, of course, but he has got the tools to come out here and play the game,” Rohit said. “The bowlers that we have back in India, some of them are injured, some of them are not available. So we try to pick the guys who are available and we see the conditions that we are coming up against and try to pick the bowlers based on that. I completely agree that he has not played a lot of cricket, but there are three guys in their team as well who have not played a lot of cricket; they came here and showed what it takes.

“More than the work in the legs, I think it is in the mind. How you treat your mind and how you want to play the game is more important. If you keep thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve not played a lot of Test matches, I’ve not played too many first-class games’, it’s not going to help. When you get an opportunity, obviously you should be grateful and come out and do the job for the team.

“Prasidh has been with the Indian team. Not around the Test team, but he has played a lot of white-ball cricket for us in the last two or three years, and he has shown that he has got a lot of potential. Obviously, it didn’t work out well for him playing his first game, but we all were nervous when we played our first game. He would have been nervous as well.

“These things happen, but the guy definitely has the game to excel in this particular format. So we are going to back him because he definitely has the potential and he has got a great attitude as well about his game, which probably will hold us in good stead moving forward.”

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo

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