After the first Test at Centurion, it was quite clear where India's Achilles' Heel lay. While the batting was shoddy, it almost came together in the end. But it was the visitors' bowling efforts that left much to be desired. India's pace attack was outright toothless, with the seamers - Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma and rookie Jaidev Unadkat - completely bereft of the kind of armoury to unsettle the Proteas batsman or curtail their onslaught.
India captain M S Dhoni blasted his bowlers for putting on such a lacklustre show, which ultimately resulted in India beginning another tour with a disheartening defeat. He pointed out that the bowlers were accustomed to bowling on flat tracks like the one at Centurion and should have used their experience more astutely. "You have bowled on flatter tracks and you're still expected to get the sides out, so that's an area of concern because to win a Test you have to get 20 wickets."
There was not a single passage of play when the Indian bowlers came close to dominating. Right from the first ball that South Africa faced, the hosts were on top, shrewdly and defiantly employing tactics of aggression to throw off the attack. Ultimately, neither could the bowlers choke the run-flow nor peg back the opposition by taking wickets. "You're supposed to either take wickets or not let the opposition score at five runs an over in a Test match," Dhoni said.
Not possessing the raw pace of the opposition's Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, the Indian bowlers had to be bang on with their accuracy."It was difficult because there was not much help from the wicket," pointed out Dhoni. "Our bowlers are not express quick. They don't generally bowl over 140-plus. They have to be very precise with their line and length."
But the Indian pace trio was anything but. Sreesant was the only paceman to effect some swing, but he was often short and wound up conceding a total of 13 fours, with poor figures of 0/97 in 24 overs. Sharma was also not in his element, leaking 17 boundaries and picking up just 2 wickets for 120 in 27.1 overs, while Unadkat too struggled for impact, going while giving away 101 runs in 26 overs. Harbhajan's off-spinners didn't do any magic either as he went for 4.64 runs in each of his 36 overs, getting struck for 10 boundaries and 2 sixes along the way.
Even the back-up bowlers were terribly ineffective, not to say expensive. Suresh Raina was blown away for 77 runs in his 7 overs, as A B de Villiers launched him for one six after the next, while Sachin Tendulkar virtually gifted the batsman 51 runs off his 10 overs. To compound India's woes, the over-rate was noticably slow. "Another area of worry is the over-rate because we were five-and-a-half overs down at one stage," Dhoni said.
The beleaguered bowlers allowed the South Africans to hit a crescendo in their scoring-rate in the last session before they declared. 225 runs came in the last 30 overs that the Proteas batted, giving them an additional amount of time in which to bowl India out.
Dhoni could have been a tad bit smarter with his field placings as well. While he did call in a short-leg for Harbhajan's bowling, he failed to employ slip-fielders for new batsmen. The next man at the crease didn't have to contend with much pressure while settling in.
Hopefully, India will learn from the gross errors of the first Test and bowl with more intent when they take the field at Durban on Boxing Day. It's a well-known adage that the best form of defence is attack. But India's can not even think of being defensive from here on in if they are to take the fight to the South Africans and square the series.