South Africa’s batsmen failed dismally during the
third Test in Nagpur because they played spin worse than their
opponents. The visitors’ mindset was totally wrong. Far too many shots were
played too early and the old adage of “time at the crease makes it easier” was
forgotten. Perhaps the problem lies in too much ODI and T20 cricket currently
In bygone days, Test cricket was tough work. Pitches
were not covered and learning to play on those tracks must have been a
nightmare. Batsmen learned to play the ball late, to pick length early and to
rotate the strike. While AB de Villiers is a cut above everyone else at
present, even he will admit that he didn’t afford himself sufficient time at
Once upon a time those who played in Cape Town were
more adept at playing spin. Those from PE coped better with the low and slow
bounce. And Natal batsmen were effective when the ball bounced. When teams were
selected, players were picked on specific ability.
With the dust having settled on the Nagpur pitch and
the Proteas gearing up for the fourth and final Test match in Delhi, the
cricket world is witnessing the dawn of a new Test era.
I’m a die-hard Test cricket fan to the core and love
watching matches head into the fifth day. However, I also enjoy seeing wickets
tumble and firmly believe that batsmen shouldn’t dominate to the point where
bowlers are merely there for the former’s entertainment.
There was a whole heap of criticism when the Proteas
were bowled out in Nagpur on a pitch that spun like crazy from day one.
However, almost all of the criticism came from batsmen. Meanwhile, in the third
Test between Australia and New Zealand, where batsmen
made merry and bowlers toiled, I didn’t see anyone write or tweet that the
pitch was sub-standard and should have been reported. I wonder why not. It
smacks of double standards.
Never will I begrudge a spinner the time to bowl on
a pitch that spins on the first morning. The Test in Nagpur was a fascinating
one. It was as exciting and eventful as any T20 clash.
I played in South Africa through the 90s at
Kingsmead in Durban and then for the Proteas around the different Test venues.
As such, I’m qualified to speak on behalf of the spinners who played during
that period. We drew the short end of the stick almost every time.
Spin was something that was seen as holding down an
end, with the possibility of picking up a wicket or two, but generally not considered
as a front-line option no matter how much lip-service was paid to it. In fact, the
late Hansie Cronje even bowled some spin during a Test in Durban, while Paul
Adams and I ended up carrying the drinks. What a disgrace that was!
In 1994, during the famous Sydney Test in which
Fanie de Villiers took six wickets, I bowled almost unchanged at the other end
to keep the score down. The figures are now distant memories, but of
significance was the Adelaide Test the following week in which umpire Darrell
Hair made many mistakes. Both Dave Rundle and I, who were the spinners on the
tour, were not selected. Australia played two spinners, while Gary Kirsten
ended up bowling spin for South Africa during that Test. We were gutted and
even called a meeting to voice our unhappiness with the team manager at the
time. Alas, nothing came of that meeting.
Such was the life of a South African spinner: in
today, gone tomorrow. Robin Peterson saw his career go the same way. He was in and
out and then dropped altogether. He always had to prove himself. Meanwhile, Nicky
Boje won a Test series for the Proteas against India and yet was never a
settled spinner in the side. He had to bat well in order to maintain his place.
Meanwhile, Adams burst on the Test scene in 1995 and
was up there with the fastest bowlers to claim 100 Test wickets. But what
happened to the man nicknamed Gogga and
why didn’t he go on to become one of the highest wicket-takers in South African
I’m hoping the Test at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium,
which begins on Thursday, boasts the same kind of pitch. I feel South Africa
will have learned something from the second innings of the third Test and it
will transfer to their system in time. That can only be a positive for spinners
still to arrive on the scene, so at to avoid suffering the same fate as those
of the past.
Former South Africa international Pat Symcox played 20 Tests, took 37
wickets and scored 741 runs. He is a self-proclaimed cricket fanatic,
struggling golfer and addicted writer.
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