In doing that, the South African team is mimicking a mental ploy followed by their Indian counterparts in recent years. Virat Kohli has been at pains to point out that India won’t make excuses about pitches as some predecessors had.
Instead India have built a team for all conditions; one that can win on a seaming snake-pit at the Wanderers as they did in 2018 or can play the patience game on a slow turner in Visakhapatnam as they did last week.
If it works for Test cricket’s No 1 ranked team, then it may be a useful mantra for a SA team that is in transition to follow. And while they rightly earned praise for a gutsy display in Visakhaptnam, the reality is that they lost heavily and in fact played most of the game in India’s shadow.
That will need to change if they are to square the series in Pune starting tomorrow (6am start).
Indian media have reported that the pitch at the Gahunje Stadium, may provide a little bit more assistance for the seamers as a result of the rainy weather in the western state of Maharashtra over the last few weeks.
More rain has been forecast for the Test match and while no one is expecting a Nottingham seamer, the chance of a dry turner may also have been thwarted. Either way, the head groundsman at the Gahunje Stadium, Pandurang Salgaonkar, will know that he is a marked man. The preparation of the pitch for the second Test is his first major gig after a six-month suspension after being involved in a pitch doctoring scandal before a one-day international at the venue against New Zealand in October 2017.
Eight months earlier the pitch he prepared for the only Test that has been played at the venue so far, was deemed poor by the ICC, which issued the BCCI with a warning. Salgaonkar blamed interference from the BCCI and the India team’s management for the pitch mishaps, but given Kohli’s more serene stance on conditions his team plays in, it’s unlikely that the Indian captain will care what kind of surface Salgaonkar prepares.
As the first Test showed, India have all bases covered with the ball, and given their dominance in Visakhapatnam, it’s unlikely that they will change their starting team. SA however have a few areas that will be debated. Do they stick with three frontline spinners or rope in an extra seamer? And if so who of Dane Piedt or Muthusamy sits out? Neither shone with the ball in the first Test - which is their primary job - instead impressing with the bat.
Theunis de Bruyn’s spot at No 3 is also a point for the selectors to consider, especially the way and the timing of his dismissals in Visakhapatnam. As crucial as those decisions will be, so is the Proteas’ mentality. The squad met for an hour before a tough training session yesterday, where staying composed in the midst of adversity was an important topic. “We are still in a good space, we are looking to grow, we are looking to enjoy being uncomfortable,” Muthusamy reiterated.
In doing so, they need to make India feel uncomfortable from tomorrow as well. That happened sporadically in Visakhapatnam; when captain Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar shared a partnership, and when Elgar and Quinton de Kock shared theirs.
Those periods were too quickly snuffed out and if SA are to level the series, the players will have to ensure India’s discomfort is sustained for longer periods.
SA Test squad:
Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Senuran Muthusamy, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Heinrich Klaasen@shockerhess