Johannesburg - Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement and India’s capitulation against high-quality pace and seam bowling in the One-Day International Series have given South Africa a clear plan of attack for the upcoming two-match Sunfoil Test series.
Besides Tendulkar’s obvious technical qualities as a batsman with a matchless international record, he was the “calming influence in the (India) changeroom”, according to Proteas coach Russell Domingo.
And while Tendulkar had not played ODI cricket for 12 months prior to his Test retirement, the much-hyped new youthful Indian batting brigade of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli that arrived in South Africa a week ago have been measured and found wanting without “The Little Master” to guide them through testing times, leaving the Proteas seam attack with an obvious target at which to direct their 140km-plus missiles.
“It’s a big advantage. We spoke at the beginning of the one-day series that we wanted to put doubt in their minds in terms of the way that they play pace. They have always had issues playing pace in South Africa and that is what history shows. I don’t know what is going on in their minds at the moment,” Domingo said after announcing his 15-man Test squad on Monday.
“It (pace) is a South African strength. It is the way that we were brought up playing cricket. Sub-continent sides will always turn to spin as an attacking option and South Africans will turn to pace because that is in our DNA. Having a four-pronged pace attack is important for us against a country like India in our conditions.”
Domingo makes a pertinent point in referring to the conditions and surfaces, especially with MS Dhoni’s side unlikely to relish the prospect of fending off red leather from their bodies and heads all day long. Their recent record away from the subcontinent – consecutive 4-0 whitewashes in England and Australia – leaves Domingo with a straightforward template to replicate.
It is not that the world No1 Test side required even more of an incentive, but the series sponsors offered Domingo and his team a cool R1-million on Monday at the series launch should they make a clean sweep of the Indians and Australia later on this summer.
Domingo might have been forgiven for getting straight on the blower to curators Chris Scott at the Wanderers and Wilson Ngobese at Kingsmead.
“I think the days of asking groundsmen to prepare pitches are done. I don’t think groundsmen listen in any case,” Domingo quipped. “Obviously the pitch we played on at Kingsmead on Sunday is not the type we want to play on. It was a bit slower than we expected, a bit more suited to India, like the one on which we played Pakistan in Cape Town wasn’t a pitch that we asked for because it was on the slow side.
“It depends on the weather conditions, what the square conditions are like, but it is very difficult to dictate to groundsmen what we are looking for. We not looking for lateral movement, but it would be nice to have pitches with pace and bounce. We are focusing really hard on what we are doing and that is important for us. If we are bowling well we know that we can get teams out.”
Although Proteas ODI captain AB de Villiers is desperate for a 3-0 drubbing of the world champions, Domingo is likely to rest his chief artillery in the final ODI at Centurion on Wednesday with Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel expected to be put on ice until the first Test at the Wanderers a week from now.
It is a strategy that has proved successful for the Proteas recently, with Steyn in particular making an immediate impact upon his return to the national team.
There have been whispers within the corridors of South African cricket that reserve wicket-keeper Thami Tsolekile is moving closer to a Test recall, but Domingo poured cold water on that suggestion on Monday, indicating “the side has been successful with the seven-batsman strategy and I’d probably like to continue that. It is still early in my Test tenure to want to make too many wholesale changes to what has worked well over the last period of time”.
PROTEAS TEST SQUAD
Graeme Smith (capt), AB de Villiers (vice-capt), Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morné Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile.