South Africa are walking wounded after losing the first Test against India. Vernon Philander has been ruled out of the rest of the series and Kyle Abbott has been flown in to replace him. From wriggling the bowling attack to the openers finding their mojo, ANTOINETTE MULLER picks five talking points ahead of the second Test.
After a proper beating in the first Test, it is two steps back from square one for South Africa. As cricket’s Kings of the Road, the Proteas need to put in a good performance in this Test, in order to claw their way back. But Mother Cricket has other plans. They have lost one of their key bowlers, their legspinner remains unconvincing, and rain is likely to have the final say if the weather forecast is to be believed. It is going to be one of those Test that puts anyone who is only a passive cricket fan, completely off this stuff that goes on for five days. Here are five talking points.
Vernon Philander’s injury
Vernon Philander injured his ankle in training on Thursday, and will miss the rest of the Test series against India. Kyle Abbott has been flown in as cover, but will only join the team on Friday morning. For him to step back into the starting XI will be tough, but not impossible. Morne Morkel, who missed out on the first Test through injury, is likely to return. It will be a toss-up between Abbot and young Kagiso Rabada, or possibly both, if South Africa opt to go for just one spinner. And this is where things get interesting.
In the first Test, Philander was employed in a sort of “Peter Siddle” type role. He can be aggressive up front, but also turn the screws, and force pressure. Philander bowled more dot balls than any other South African bowler in the first innings. In the second, when Dale Steyn was out injured, Philander took the more aggressive approach. Morkel has always been the bowler that “gets through the overs” instead of attacking up front, but Rabada has shown that he is perfectly capable of doing the same. When Morkel “finds his mongrel” and bowls full-steam, without needing to worry about conceding runs, he can be incredibly effective though. With all this in mind, it will be interesting to see how South Africa wriggle their bowling attack.
The opening partnership
Stiaan van Zyl looked far more comfortable batting in the middle order, than opening in the first Test. Not that he is a complete stranger to opening, he does so regularly for his domestic team in limited overs, and since he has been earmarked for that spot in Tests, he has done a decent job. But two left-handers up-front makes it easy for the opposition bowlers, and it just doesn’t look as if though Dean Elgar and van Zyl have found their chemistry yet. These things take time, of course, it is only their second series opening together, and the rain-soaked innings in Bangladesh hardly counts. The pitch is unlikely to turn as much as it did in Mohali, so perhaps Van Zyl just needs to get the monkey off his back to move forward.
Imran Tahir needs to do more
Imran Tahir put in a tactically underwhelming performance in the first Test . Even on a pitch with more turn than he is used to, he did not exactly look overly convincing. With Philander out of the equation as a pressure builder, Tahir is going to have to dig deep to find patience, and stop trying to bowl six different deliveries in every over. That is, if he plays, of course. There is always a chance that South Africa might opt for two off-spinners, and bring Dane Piedt back. Although that might make their attack slightly more predictable, but Tahir is not exactly a mystery bowler. They might, also, choose just one spinner, provided JP Duminy is fit to make up some of the overs.
Dane Vilas’s opportunity to do something
The whole point of Dane Vilas being part of the squad is, allegedly, to see if he can do something in case South Africa need a back-up wicketkeeper, when England tour the country over the summer. So far, Vilas has not done much. He has looked dubious with the gloves, and at sea with the bat. Considering Quinton de Kock’s record against India – and his performances in the limited overs series – it is looking, increasingly, like it was a slightly foolish idea to not bring him along for this tour. Yes, he was in dodgy form after his ankle injury, but no sooner than you could say “A-team tour to India” did he manage to recover some of it. De Kock has a great future ahead for South Africa, and while it is easy to want to wrap him in cotton wool, he has already been through the trenches of international cricket, twice. He is a much better wicketkeeper than Vilas, and when things come down to small margins – a catch taken here, a stumping there – then De Kock is the player you want in the team. Test cricket is not easy, and Vilas is not a bad player, but he doesn’t have much longer to adjust if he wants to be in the squad for the series against England.
The weather forecast looks pretty grim. If you trust the weathermen, then it is likely to rain for four out of the five days of the second Test. That is not good news for South Africa, who need to get back into this series, and in pursuit of preserving their away record. Having not lost a Test series away from home since 2006 – a record South Africa are immensely proud of – being forced further behind because of weather will irk them. DM