Learning the art of unlearning
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On the eve of this important Test, the obvious advise for the young Indian batsmen would be this: Wipe out the demoralising time at the crease during the ODI series from their collective heads. Though, on second thoughts, considering these are hardened professionals known to take giant strides after stumbling falls and not school kids playing in the Little League, the counsel to start afresh is more tame than timely.
The bigger challenge for this inexperienced Indian batting line-up at Wanderers will be to erase their muscle memory. A few facts that give strength to this argument follows.
The last time India faced fearsome pacers on lively tracks, although certainly not as formidable as Dale Steyn & Co, was about two years back in Australia. Since January, 2013, most Indian batsmen presently in South Africa have played about seven times more in limited over cricket than they have in Tests. Each of the six Tests and most of the 40 plus ODI/IPL games have been played on the slow and low tracks at home, within their comfort zone. This has resulted in the batsmen's feet and eyes being well programmed to react to balls that travel at modest pace and barely ever climbing above their knees.
Keeping this in mind, it is not going to be easy to forget the past over a fortnight. Rather, it will perhaps be as difficult as kicking a habit or defeating an addiction. This requires time. The ODIs, earlier this month, ushered in the early days rehab. As expected, most succumbed to their urges.
There was Virat Kohli at the start of his innings, almost subconsciously hanging his bat out to the away going balls. At home, this was his way of running the ball past gully to third man. This was how he rotated the strike. This was how he frustrated the bowlers who wanted a longer duel with him. This was how he built the plinth to his towering average. It always worked, till he reached South Africa. The first game saw him edge to slips and in second he nicked one to the keeper. On both occasions, he was playing his ever-reliable bread-and-butter tap behind square on the off-side. India's most successful and versatile young player, famous to seamlessly toggle between formats, was done in by sharp speeds, smarter pacers and extra bounce.