JOHANNESBURG – In forecasting this series, very few would have predicted a trial by spin for the home team.
But in the first two matches of the one-day international series against India, that is exactly what the Proteas have faced. And they’ve failed that examination. Out of the 82.2 overs bowled in Durban last Thursday and at Centurion yesterday, 40.2 have been by India’s three spinners and two in particular have the South African batsmen in a twist.
Of those 40.2 overs of spin, 34.2 have been bowled by leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav. In total, the duo have claimed 13/121 across the two matches. That’s 13 out of 18 SA wickets that have fallen in the series thus far, going to Chahal and Yadav. Until SA’s batsmen find a way to nullify and then get on top of them, India’s series lead will only stretch further.
To blame the pitches would be totally out of order. There was nothing wrong with the surface at Centurion. Perhaps it was a touch slower than normal, but nothing that should have led to SA being bowled out in 32.2 overs for the lowest total ever recorded at the venue in an ODI.
SA’s batting was desperately poor. Their execution against the spinners was of the kind usually reserved for schoolboys seeing spin for the very first time. Aiden Markram, Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy were all culpable of giving their wickets away. David Miller meanwhile just looks all at sea and his career-long problems with spin are being exposed against India again.
Contrast those approaches with that of India’s batsmen in the first two games; Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane (in Durban) and Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan yesterday, sought to hit the gaps, and wait on the loose ball from Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi. Nothing special in that, just good, clear thinking and execution.
Of course SA have missed Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers - two players of such stature and ability would leave a hole in any team. But this is an opportunity for others to shine, and hitherto they’ve not done so, Markram included.
De Kock’s poor form continues to hang over him in what has been a troubling summer for the precocious wicketkeeper-batsman.
He struggled yesterday against the fast bowling of Jasprit Bumrah - only just avoiding being bowled in the first over when the ball, having ricocheted off him hit the base of middle stump without dislodging the bail - and then the spin of Chahal
In the wake of the injuries to De Villiers and Du Plessis, the selectors have seen fit to call up De Kock’s Titans teammate Heinrich Klaasen, and the temptation will be growing to give the hard-hitting Klaasen a chance even if its just to give De Kock a mental break.
For their part India know they have SA on the ropes and there is no need to change from that which is working very well. They have read the conditions in Durban and at Centurion much better than the South Africans have, and Chahal and Yadav have prayed on the aggression of the SA batsmen. There is a lot for the home team to think about before the third match of the series at Newlands on Wednesday. There they will definitely have to execute a great deal better than they have done at Centurion and in Durban.
Meanwhile, short of getting Chahal and Yadav to come down and join their practice sessions, there’s not a whole lot more SA’s batsmen can do to improve their play against India’s two deadly wrist-spinners.
Chahal and Yadav have been instrumental in pushing the tourists to a 2-0 series lead after the opening couple of games in this six-match one-day international series, and SA’s batting coach Dale Benkenstein says the onus is on the players to solve the problem.
“There isn’t much more you can do in the nets, you are not going to get them to come and bowl at you ... that’s the mentally tough thing about international cricket,” Benkenstein said following SA’s nine-wicket defeat in the second ODI at Centurion yesterday.
“We’ve had two games, there are no excuses. We’ve tried, we’ve had net bowlers who are (bowling) slightly slower and we try and replicate it as much as we can. As management and coaches we try and give the guys everything that we can, but at the end of the day the batters have to work it out and play to their game plans and do the job in the middle.”
A feature of Chahal and Yadav’s bowling is the lack of pace with which they bowl, a deliberate ploy said Yadav, who picked up career-best figures of 5/22 yesterday.
“Especially on these grounds and wickets, you have to bowl a little slower,” said the 23-year-old leg-spinner. “The ground is very small, and they have big hitters. As spinners you can’t bowl faster, otherwise they will play you as medium pacers.”