Proteas batsman still haunted by spinning ghosts
JOHANNESBURG - The ghosts of sub-continent tours past, continue to haunt South Africa's batsmen.
That much was clear on day one of the first Test against Pakistan. There were no demons in that pitch at the National Stadium in Karachi. It's like the best horror novels or movies, it's not what you see that scares you, rather what your mind imagines, and South Africa's batsmen had some vivid imaginations – especially after lunch yesterday.
South Africa appeared to be in Karachi in body only – the batsmen's minds were in Nagpur and Delhi, Colombo and Galle, where some of them have experienced being spun out for two totals under 80 on previous trips, by Ashwin, Jadeja, Perera and Herath.
The Proteas got spooked when Yasir Shah ripped a few leg-spinners after lunch. Suddenly the balance between attack and defence was lost, everything that had been talked about and trained for beforehand was forgotten.
“You could bat on the pitch – you saw that with Temba (Bavuma) and George (Linde), there's no real demons in the pitch,” said Dean Elgar, who batted longer than anyone else and top-scored with 58.
Shah did bowl a lovely leg-break to dismiss Faf du Plessis, and perhaps seeing the most experienced batsman fall in that manner added to the anxiety of the rest of the team. Nauman Ali, a 34-year-old left arm spinner making his debut, didn't even have to spin the ball to pick up his two wickets – Quinton de Kock played the wrong shot and was caught at midwicket, Elgar produced a loose drive which he nicked to slip. Both were trapped in finding the balance between attack and defence.
“If the ball gets softer, then ja, it poses some challenges for the batsmen. It was a case of maintaining the balancing act of the very good start of the first session, and not getting caught in our own bubbles.”
Getting wrapped up in their own heads is precisely what happened however. They knew they wanted to dominate, having gotten the advantage from winning the toss and batting first, and didn't want to be tied down by the spinners. And in all that confusion they handed their wickets away.
The #Proteas return to Pakistan to play Test cricket for the first time in 14 years has been an exciting one for the team! 🇵![CDATA]>🇰![CDATA]>🇿![CDATA]>🇦— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) January 26, 2021
Catch all the action from Karachi live on SuperSport and in the official match day centre. #PAKvSA #SeeUsOnThePitch pic.twitter.com/Ai8ktTBqDv
“It's about trusting your defence, being very conscious of what you've done in preparation. You have to go defensive a bit sometimes and then you need to trust your defensive game just to earn the right to start playing a little bit more expansive,” said Elgar.
All that confusion, the memories of raging turning tracks on sub-continent tours of the last five years clouded the judgement of the South African batsmen and as a result they posted what Elgar described as “a very, very under par score on that pitch”.
There is a lesson for the batsmen in the way the bowlers executed at the end of the first day. There was clarity and precision allied to intensity from Kagiso Rabada that created a big opening for the tourists.
It's worth remembering, that this is a young Proteas side. For many it is a first visit to the sub-continent with the added element of the ‘unknown' in Pakistan given it's the first tour there by a South African team in more than 13 years. It's also winter there, with conditions even those in the coaching staff who have toured there previously have not experienced and there's the Covid-19 ‘bio bubble,' that adds to the challenge.
South Africa's batsmen don't need to add to all of that, by seeing stuff and playing for things that aren't there.