How is it possible that a team who had such a solid record in the limited overs series can suffer such a collective brain fade in Tests? By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Cricket’s road warriors find themselves in a slightly awkward position. Already 1-0 down in a series, and staring down the barrel in the second – saved only by rain, thus far – South Africa have their backs against the wall.
After being put in to bat, the Proteas crumbled to 214 all out. Just one player, AB de Villiers, managed a half-century. Just two, De Villiers and Dean Elgar, managed more than an hour at the crease. Rotating the strike was distinctly absent from the top order, and so, as in Mohali, the pressure seemed to mount, despite having all the time in the world to settle in.
For those wanting to point at the pitch once again, India showed that there is nothing wrong with this surface. Even Shikhar Dhawan – a walking wicket in the first Test – managed to score with relative freedom. India clobbered together 80 for no loss in response, on day one, and would feel mightily irked that their dominance was siphoned by rain on the second day. The rest of the forecast does not look good either, and that could very well be South Africa’s saving grace. Despite their reputation as being the comeback kids, and their ability to dig themselves out of a hole when it seems that there was no way out, asking to come back from being 2-0 down would have been a near-impossible task. With much more rain forecast for the remainder of the second Test, South Africa best just cut their losses, and find a way to get over the spin hangover that has plagued them since that first Test.
What South Africa’s approach has highlighted, so far, is just how much of a mental game Test cricket is. They were guilty of playing the turn, rather than India’s bowlers on their merits in the first Test. Considering their batsmen had coped better than fine during the limited overs, it was a most curious case of failing to engage brain.
Now, on a pitch in Bangalore that hardly turned, they did the same. When Virat Kohli won the toss on Saturday, and elected to field, he probably never imagined that his spinners would end up with eight wickets between them, before the day was over. South Africa’s spinners hardly had the same success. JP Duminy and Imran Tahir bowled just two overs each, so far, and both were innocuous, at best. Duminy was clearly still struggling with the hand injury that kept him out of the first Test. Tahir, meanwhile, has a mountain to climb ahead of him. The visitors are, also, without two of their key bowlers, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, with both missing out through injury. But their bowlers, and the lack of penetration from a second string attack, is hardly South Africa’s biggest concern.
How is it possible that a team boasting such stellar talents, can suffer such a collective brain fade twice in a row? Perhaps the answer is in the individual form of South Africa’s players. While they might be the best team in the world, they have lacked some consistency in recent times.
Since January 2014, South Africa have just two batsmen who average above 50.00 for that time period, Hashim Amla and De Villiers. Elgar, Duminy and Stiaan van Zyl all average over 40.00, and Faf du Plessis a touch under – with 37.57. But averages sometimes only tell half the story. Since the beginning of last year, South Africa’s top order have managed just 12 centuries between them, De Vlliers and Amla have three each in 11 and 13 Tests respectively, but they have not been supported very well.
For comparison, a team like England, who have had a dreadful time against Pakistan recently, have a top order that boasts 16 tons from its top five since January 2014. They have played about six Tests more than South Africa, on average, but when looking at half-centuries scored by England’s batsmen, that’s where the picture becomes quite clear. Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Ian Bell, Moeen Ali and, the now out-of-favour, Gary Ballance have 40 half centuries. De Villiers, Amla, Du Plessis, Elgar, Duminy, and Van Zyl have managed just 14.
Maybe, then, South Africa’s collective brain fade can simply be put down to the fact that pockets of poor form have slipped under the radar, because South Africa have gotten away with it when it mattered, and when they did not – like against Australia last year – it was put down to a team being in the form of their lives. In some braai circles, they have even been accused of being arrogant, especially against teams like Bangladesh and West Indies, but that certainly would not have been the case against India. If anything, the few days of Test cricket South Africa have played in the subcontinent should serve as a wakeup call, one that should come just in time of England’s visit to these shores. DM
Scorecard summary: India trail by 134 runs with 10 wickets remaining in the 1st innings
South Africa 214 all out: AB de Villiers 85 (105), Dean Elgar 38 (81); Ravi Ashwin 18-2-70-4, Ravi Jadeja 16-2-50-5
India 80-0: Murali Vijay 28* (73), Shikhar Dhawan 45 (62)