While Proteas Rely on Bowlers, MSD Harps on Home Advantage

Seven of the eight Indian wickets were shared between Steyn, Rabada and Chris Morris while Bhuvneshwar Kumar was run out.

Published: 24th October 2015 06:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th October 2015 06:23 AM   |  A+A-


CHENNAI: The scriptwriters for this series, alas, are not the most imaginative bunch, content as they are with formulaic themes, seldom subverting the types. More than three weeks and six completed matches into the series, the contests have trodden an eerily familiar storyline of their past blockbusters, with the same generic protagonists sharing screen-space. Only their names and faces change.

h.jpgSince the historic tour of 1991, most of South Africa’s highs in the country were wrought by pacers — and they had unleashed a ceaseless chain of speed and swing demons —most of India’s high-five moments were fashioned by thoroughbred spinners, barring maybe Javagal Srinath’s single-handed demolition at Ahmedabad in 1996. It has always been spin versus pace, supersonic aggression versus subtle deception.

So there’s hardly anything that warrants surprise in the way this series has unfolded — pacers winning games for the tourists and spinners reprising it for hosts. The trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada pumping them and the spin triumvirate of Amit Mishra, Harbhajan Singh and Axar Patel propelling the Indians. South Africa pacers have accounted for 31 of the 39 Indian wickets (barring run outs) in this series, while the corresponding numbers of the Indian spinners read 20 of 34.

India skipper MS Dhoni isn’t surprised: “You expect their pacers to get more bounce from the strips here in as much as the same way our spinners get more turn than theirs. This is our strength and that is theirs. So if you look at their pacers, they will get more wickets and vice versa for us.”

The contrast in methods was even more pronounced on Thursday. Seven of the eight Indian wickets were shared between Steyn, Rabada and Chris Morris while Bhuvneshwar Kumar was run out. Likewise, four of the top-four South Africa wickets were prised out by Harbhajan, Patel and Mishra. While Steyn and Rabada put the squeeze at the death, Harbhajan & Co strangled South Africa in the middle overs, putting the match even beyond the pyrotechnical freakishness of AB de Villiers.

Considering this was the first surface that abetted spinners this series, South African batsmen’s inability to negotiate them could be a determining factor in the Tests, where the strips are likely to assist spinner more. But coach Russell Domingo is not overtly concerned: “I’m surprised that we got a spinning wicket this late on the tour. This is what you expect in India and we are pretty equipped to deal with them. We have quality players of spin and those who have done here before. We didn’t play quite as good as we could. But we will learn from it and make the necessary adjustments.”

With the four-Test series about to start in less than a fortnight, there is conspicuous focus, and speculation, on the nature of the surfaces being prepared. Dhoni doesn’t mind them being spin-friendly: “Every place has its own specialties. Coming to India, the challenge is to play on turning wickets. It’s what makes Test cricket challenging. I’m not endorsing unplayable wickets, but ideally the wickets should start turning from the first day, which also makes the toss less crucial. A sporting wicket doesn’t mean it has to have a lot of grass. It means anything that’s challenging. For that matter, this was a sporting wicket. Both pacers and spinners got help, and batsmen made runs as well.”

If the curators indeed practise what the retired Test skipper has preached, the narrative of the supposed blockbuster series would be eerily repetitive. But who is to crib when the dramatis personae include the likes of Virat Kohli, De Villiers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel?


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