Proteas’ batsmen under pressure

2015-11-12 15:39
Pat Symcox (File)

The first Test in Mohali underlined just how desperate India were to appease their huge fan base after suffering humiliating back-to-back series losses in the game’s shorter formats.

The track prepared for the opening Test between the two cricketing giants took India back years in cricketing terms. It was the way they played years ago before the advent of the IPL and bouncier pitches. The contest ended within three days and would have had television bosses on their knees in front of advertisers, who demand more bang for their buck.

India won the toss which was important, but the Proteas certainly had their chances during the course of the 251 overs and never grasped them firmly enough. Ultimately, the visitors' downfall was because they failed to recognise and take advantage of the big moments.

Captain Hashim Amla would have been pleased with his bowlers, who dealt with the foreign conditions well and ensured India scored just over 200 runs in the first innings. At one stage, the hosts threatened to score more than the aforementioned total, but through effective captaincy from Amla and pressure bowling by seam and spin alike, the Indians capitulated.

However, South Africa’s inability to get a lead on the first innings immediately meant India were afforded their first “get out of jail free” card. Being bowled out cheaply in the first innings cost the Proteas the match. What saddened me was that South Africa’s batsmen were unable to counter spin even though they knew it was would come to the fore at some stage during the series. Of concern heading into the second Test - only AB de Villiers, who borders on genius, appeared capable of dealing with the pressure of spin from both ends.

By their own admission, South Africa’s performance with the bat in the fourth innings was pitiful to say the least. Some suggest that if De Villiers doesn’t score runs, the Proteas will really be in dire straits. It’s probably true to a point because the 31-year-old right-hander is in the form of his life and boasts the ability to change a match in a short space of time.

The key component of being able to rotate the strike off low and slow turning pitches is to have a go-to shot that you know will get you down the other end. All the best players of spin bowling did. Jonty Rhodes and Sachin Tendulkar had the sweep shot. Brian Lara was a master at pushing into the gap on the offside, while Ricky Ponting used his feet. If you learn your trade on turning pitches, of course it comes naturally and you have innate confidence in your go-to shot. It can be played almost at will, which makes it very difficult for a spinner.

A critical aspect to the success of any spinner comes down to creating pressure on a batsman by not letting him off strike, especially when they are a few men around the bat.

To counter said tactic, batsmen have to be able to rotate the strike regularly and release the mental pressure. Batsmen start to hear voices after they knock back too many deliveries without scoring and that happens to the best of the best. Some just take longer to get there.

As a batsman, when you simply aren’t in possession of a shot within your arsenal to get you down to the other end of the track, the pressure builds like an inferno and eventually you play a shot out of hope rather than skill. And more often than not it results in a disaster.

Heading into the second Test starting on Saturday, Russell Domingo will hopefully have dissected the batting performances and worked tirelessly on identifying the shortcomings.

However, reality is that things don’t change overnight and the best case scenario for South Africa is that the Bangalore surface isn’t doctored to the same extent as the Mohali pitch.

Moreover, Domingo will hope that Morné Morkel and Dale Steyn have recovered on the bowling front and JP Duminy is back to full fitness to bolster the batting line-up. Duminy’s spin bowling will free up a spot to play a stronger batsman, but Domingo’s single biggest challenge will be to somehow fit in another genuine top order batsman. The one way he can do so is to let De Villiers keep wicket, but that would fly in the face of what has gone before.

Mind you, this Test match is a do-or-die fixture. If the Proteas lose, the series cannot be won. However, if the visitors prevail, all the pressure will be transferred to the home side.

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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