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India picking up Rohit Sharma over Ajinkya Rahane came as a surprise to us: Faf du Plessis

Virat Kohli talking with Rohit Sharma during second innings of 1st Test against South Africa. Image: BCCI

Cape Town, Jan 9: India faltered badly as a batting unit in the opening Test against South Africa and lost the game by a margin of 72 runs to trail by 0-1 in the three-match series.

Many believed that one of the prime reason for Virat Kohli and his boys' poor display of batting was the absence of overseas specialist Ajinkya Rahane from the side.

Kohli preferred in-form Rohit Sharma over out of form Rahane in the opening Test match, but unfortunately, the decision seemed to have backfired as Rohit failed to impress in both the innings.

Almost everyone was surprised with the Indian team management's decision of dropping Rahane - who is better equipped for playing under such conditions. Not just fans, even the opposition was stunned with Kohli's decision of selecting Rohit and dropping Rahane.

South Africa captain Faf Du Plessis said he was also left surprised by the selection of Rohit Sharma over Rahane. Another surprise call, according to the opposition skipper, was picking debutant Jasprit Bumrah ahead of seniors like Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.

"We were surprised yes. We didn't think that Jasprit Bumrah would have played. We know that he's done really well in one-day cricket but we were preparing more for the other seamers because they've played a lot of Tests," said du Plessis in the post-match media interaction here.

"I think the other guy was Rohit Sharma ahead of Ajinkya Rahane. He's been in a bit of form one-day cricket wise so they're probably just running with that," he said.

As for his own team, he faced a problem of plenty.

"The decision of picking a team was definitely the hardest I have been involved in. There is so much value in both scenarios. Playing seven batsmen that offer a bit more seam is a very good call.

"But I just thought, if you have Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Rabada - that's four bowlers you cannot look past. It's a positive move. Yes, Dale hasn't played a lot of cricket but the way he was bowling in the nets, and the way he bowled in the first innings, I think he was one of our best bowlers," he added.

Du Plessis further said that they would have liked a total of 350 runs as the 208-run target made the hosts nervous at lunch time on day four. The hosts won the first Test by 72 runs with Vernon Philander taking a career-best six for 42.

"I was nervous. I knew that the new ball was going to be key for us and that if we could get wickets with the new ball we feel like we can get through their batting line-up," said du Plessis.

"Obviously they've got a few quality players in there but once you can put a bit of pressure on them I thought we can get through them. But definitely I was very nervous.

"I came here this morning hoping to get a 350 lead and bowl to them tonight, so obviously that didn't go to plan."

Chasing 208, India were bowled out for 135 in 42.4 overs. Du Plessis was all praise for the Philander-led bowling attack.

"We've got fantastic seam bowlers and if there's anything in the wicket, Vernon Philander and the other two guys are amazing. And if we had Dale Steyn there today, I reckon we would have rolled them out cheaper," he said.

Philander led the three-man pace attack well in Dale Steyn's absence. The latter did bat but has been ruled out of the series with an ankle injury.

"If there's something in the wicket, Vernon is as good as you get around the world. What impressed me most today was he wanted to bowl overs. He didn't say after three or four overs "That's enough".

"He wanted the ball and he wanted to make a plan, that's all you ask for from a senior player's point of view."

Steyn did come out to bat but was seen limping with an injured heel.

"We said if by any chance AB is still there, Dale can just go and just stand there and hopefully AB can smash a few sixes. The plan wasn't to get him to bat and injure him more.

"He was padded up before we spoke about this to him. I feel incredibly bad for Dale. He worked for over a year. He was challenged through periods where he started and got injured again, and then started and got injured again."

On the bowling front, du Plessis felt Steyn was back to his best.

"It was great to see Dale like he didn't go anywhere. He was back to his best. I was standing at slip and we felt like he could nick guys off at anytime. You were just happy to see Dale Steyn back on the park, so this is a huge step back for him.

"Luckily it's not his shoulder again. The foot, or injury that he has, is something you probably can get over a lot quicker and we are looking forward to bringing him back in the fold when he's fit again."

The hosts only managed 286 and 130 in two innings. At one stage in the first innings, they were even stuck at 12/3 but recovered well enough to win the match in the end.

In the second innings thereafter, they lost eight wickets for 65 runs in the morning session of day four.

"This morning felt unplayable when we batted. I think pace and bounce is something that you look for in South Africa. There was movement in this Test match.

"Obviously overhead conditions and moisture could play a role. When we go to Pretoria, we will hopefully get the same and Johannesburg. Those are renowned for being a little bit quicker. Hopefully we'll get them there," said du Plessis.

He also praised the Indian pacers. "When I saw the names (of Indian bowlers) that have come over, you almost look at what they will offer in these conditions. You know they have also got variety in these conditions.

"They've got guys that can swing the ball, guys that can seam the ball around and they've also got a bit of pace. It's similar to our attack. So I'm not surprised. We wanted the wicket to be a little bit like that, so we expected the wicket to be a bit more bowler friendly.

"You just needed one or two guys to step up and score some runs. So we did that fortunately in that first innings. I felt that one of me, AB and Quinton could have pushed through to get an 80-odd and put an even bigger total."

(With inputs from PTI)

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    Story first published: Tuesday, January 9, 2018, 0:52 [IST]
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