SA all in a spin over how to handle India’s dynamite bowling duo
JOHANNESBURG: “What is this, the 90s?” a whole lot of people have asked as South Africa’s One-Day series with India has unfolded.
It is one thing to be dominated by Indian spinners in India, quite another to be dominated by them at home. But that’s what has taken place in the first half of the six match series between the two teams, making many wonder if they’d gone back in a time 25 years. Back then the merest hint of a spinner even warming up would make South African batsmen buckle at the knees. Jonty Rhodes’ sweeping seemed just about the only way to halt the capitulation. Nevermind Warne and Muralitharan, South Africa made a bunch of pretty mediocre spinners look really good – anyone remember Sunil Joshi? He claimed 5/6 against South Africa in Nairobi in 1999.
But to be fair to South Africa’s batsmen, they have improved a great deal since. The sweep is not the only method to get off strike or to get a boundary. Hashim Amla all but ended Graeme Swann’s career at the Oval in 2012, and it was Amla who dominated India two years earlier, making three consecutive hundreds in a two Test series.
The likes of Amla, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers developed methods that have seen them dominate against spin.
As a result South Africa built a proud record in the last decade; twice winning ODI series’s against Pakistan, an ODI series for the first time in Sri Lanka in 2014 and beat India in India 3-2 in 2015. The biggest blip on recent trips to the sub-continent was in Bangladesh when they lost a series there 2-1.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravendra Jadeja – in 2015 – and then Moeen Ali, who bowled with superb rhythm and with great flight in England last year, have been the spinners who most recently in the Test arena have dominated the Proteas batsmen.
But as far as One-Day cricket is concerned, it’s been a long time since spinners have proved so instrumental in the outcome of a series, as have Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
When South Africa won in India in 2015, Harbhajan Singh, Axar Patel and Amit Mishrah, who did the majority of the spin bowling for the hosts, claimed just 15 wickets between them over the five match series. Before yesterday’s match at the Wanderers, Chahal and Yadav had taken 21 of the 28 South Africa wickets which fell.
“They’ve assessed the conditions well, what speeds and lengths they need to bowl. They’ve not made it easier for us to get runs. A lot of us have not picked their googlies,” JP Duminy said after the trouncing South Africa copped at Newlands in the third match.
“When you’re not picking their ‘wrong ‘un’, you’re not going to be comfortable at the crease, you’re always a bit tentative, once you pick what they’re bowling you can play with confidence, with ease, with freedom.”
In this day and age with so much footage available from so many angles, to not be able to “pick” a bowlers variations seems incredible.
It’s not as if either Chahal or Yadav are new to the scene; the former’s been contracted in the IPL for the past six years, although he only really made a breakthrough in 2015 for the Bangalore franchise, while Yadav has been on the books of a couple of IPL sides too.Yet despite all that data available, South Africa have still looked clueless when playing them. “We’ve got gameplans, but they’ve been good enough not to give us balls to play in our gameplan,” said Duminy.
“You have to put your hand up and say they’ve been too good for us. They’ve bowled a touch slower than our spinners, and they haven’t bowled the ball full enough for us to hit down the ground, which is where we’ve usually been successful in South African conditions.”
South Africa’s batting coach Dale Benkenstein admitted he was “amazed” at how slowly both Chahal and Yadav bowled, but that slower pace of course allowed them to ‘rip’ the ball more.
Almost as concerning as South Africa’s batting woes, has been the failure of South Africa’s spinners to even half match what Chahal and Yadav have done. Spinners picked up three wicket for the hosts – before yesterday – two of those to Duminy, and Imran Tahir, recently ranked as the best ODI bowler in the world, had claimed just one.
There’s no magic formula that will cure South Africa’s ills here. As Smith, Kallis and Amla will attest, it will require hard work and patience. This is not the ‘90s’ although it sure does feel that way…