Cape Town - A
Test series in India, given the generally runs-heavy pitches and often stifling
weather conditions, tends to be more of a “marathon” experience than a sprint.
Africa, I suspect, dubiously adopted too much of the latter approach when it
came to both their selection and tactics in the hugely unedifying 0-3 recent
mind both their previous result in the country (also 0-3, in 2015/16, albeit
from a four-Test series then) and recent, frail track record in the five-day
format, the Proteas’ first concern, at least to my mind, should have been to do
their level best “not to lose”, to doggedly eat up time, before even harbouring
any ambitious thoughts of an upset pilfering of the series spoils.
words, do everything possible to get a mental foothold of sorts on the series by
aiming for an early stalemate - something that would have been extremely heartening
for the new, Enoch Nkwe-headed coaching regime at Visakhapatnam, for example,
and at least begun to get under the skins of the routinely confidence-oozing
Proteas were beaten by 203 runs in what would end up being their most
competitive of the three clashes; the other two Indian wins were achieved by
particularly gaping, innings-and-plenty margins.
the over-riding SA consideration, in the scene-setting opening encounter, have
been to do everything possible to deny India the critical “20 wickets” job
needed to engineer victory?
step to doing that - in this age where so few teams worldwide can sport a Jacques
Kallis-like true-blue all-rounder - would have been to unapologetically load
the batting: seven specialists, including wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock in the
actual No 7 berth where he has statistically enjoyed his best successes over
the course of time.
But by limiting
the frontline batting to six, I instantly had an overwhelming feeling of
foreboding for that first Test, a fear only fuelled by how fragile and
inconsistent the Proteas’ batting had been over the course of several prior
Yes, new cap
Senuran Muthusamy, introduced as a bridging sort of player in the lower
middle-order, showed some welcome resilience both times at the crease in
Visakhapatnam, but he was chosen primarily as a bowler and captain Faf du
Plessis showed noticeably little faith in him (as a second left-arm option,
dubious in itself, to first-choice Keshav Maharaj) at his supposedly main
always struggling to keep a lid on the Indian run tempo, sent down only 15 of
136 overs in India’s 500-plus first innings, and then even more inexplicably a
pitiful three in their merry old second, where a further 323 runs were clobbered
at almost five runs to the over before the declaration.
Test, incidentally, was just the beginning of my own puzzlement that Dean
Elgar’s useful enough part-time slow fare was employed so sparingly in the
series (a token five overs) - considering that he had offered a solid 43 overs
in the 2015/16 combat there and picked up five wickets at a praiseworthy
average of 27.
But as the
series moved onward, the Proteas only continued their sense of denial over
their so long evident batting shortcomings, still insisting on just six
front-liners and giving the Indians a gleeful sense, frankly even when South
Africa went two down (too often wretchedly quickly), that a fluffy tail was
really just around the corner.
By the time
the third and final Test came around at Ranchi, the visitors even more
lamentably threw in the towel, in structural batting depth terms, by asking
debutant left-arm spinner George Linde to occupy No 7 - this for a player with
a first-class batting average of 26 and just one career century at that more
Muthusamy, he did so quite pluckily but, with respect, that’s not exactly “Adam
Gilchrist” from a figures perspective in that not unimportant berth, is it?
me conveniently around to the surprise omission - unless there were some
wellness/niggle-related issues we didn’t get told about - of experienced
warhorse Vernon Philander from the third Test.
were some rightful concerns that he was down on pace even by his relatively
limited standards in the first two Tests, the seam maestro did one thing
virtually no other regular bowler could manage for South Africa in the series:
be suitably economical.
close to matching his concession rate of only 2.58 runs per over across the 60
he sent down at Visakhapatnam and Pune.
outright haemorrhaging - which only gave the Indians further, huge tracts of
available time to dismantle their foes - was a depressingly too common feature
among SA bowlers.
So here, at
least, was someone serving as some sort of defiant rot-stopper during the
fiasco, for crying out loud.
“reward”? The third-Test chop.
simply forgotten, too, that the man from Ravensmead sometimes looks one of the
more technically accomplished and patient of SA batsmen in the lean present era
for that trade?
his renowned character at the crease in Pune, having put behind him the
disappointment of a rare “pair” in the first Test by soaking up more deliveries
than any compatriot (192) in scoring 44 not out in the first innings and then
making third top score of 37 in the second: once again, no South African
survived as many balls.
harsh truth is that the current Proteas, with their mounting dents and leaks in
so many departments, would probably have been whipped in the series regardless
of how they selected for, and then strategically approached, the trio of contests.
steadfastly feel they made India’s task that extra bit easier through their
own, frankly worrying ill-judgements …
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