India vs South Africa 1st Test: Too much spin dulls pacy Proteas in Vizag
Sometime during the post-lunch session on Day 1 of the first Test between India and South Africa, a tweet from Dale Steyn summed up the visitor’s plight. “Gotta think outside the box here,” the pace bowling great wrote on his account. Steyn’s desperation was justified as Rohit Sharma had by then scored his maiden Test ton as opener, while at the other end Mayank Agarwal was steadily progressing towards reaching the three-figure mark himself. The South African bowling threat had clearly been negated.
Playing with two pacers and three spinners, the Proteas had failed to strike as the Indian pair took the hosts to a comfortable position. Clearly South Africa’s ploy to use three spinners on a dry wicket had failed, though these are still early days. The pitch will deteriorate and the foot marks of the bowlers will become more prominent. Would it be too late for the visitors by then?
“The conditions weren’t very spin friendly. We were expecting a lot more turn but it wasn’t the case,” said debutant Sethuran Muthusamy, a spinning allrounder. “We have of course tomorrow to look forward to. They batted really well so credit to them. But there were a few edges and the ball was flying here and there on occasions.
“It looks like a good cricket wicket. It seamed a little bit in the morning for half an hour. It was soft and tacky this morning and even gripped a little but evened out as the day progressed. I am sure it will spin a little more as the wicket deteriorates. Though the wicket was under cover for quite a few days, we knew it was really dry. We are sure it’ll deteriorate.”
For any team travelling in the sub-continent, the temptation is always to use their spinners to extract maximum returns. And teams have succeeded with the ploy; like Australia unleashing Steve O’Keefe during their 2017 tour of India. On a dust bowl in Pune, he wreaked havoc.
South Africa too have a premium spinner in Keshav Maharaj with Dane Piedt as the second option. But to add Muthusamy as the third spinning option may break the balance of a team that almost always relies on their pace attack to flourish. That Muthusamy was chosen over Lungi Ngidi has a lot to do with his batting credentials. No doubt it provides an extra cushion on Indian pitches, but then it also threatens to change a team inherent’s nature.
South Africa have clearly gone for the safety first approach but after the Indian openers’ show on Day 1 they have a lot of catching up to do. For starters, both Philander and Rabada were honest with their efforts. They moved the ball, got an odd edge and had a close LBW call too, but that was about it. As the pitch slowed further, the spinners sprung into action but lacked sting.
Maharaj was economical but the same cannot be said about his spin partners as Peidt went for over six an over while Muthusamy’s economy was 4.60. An over before lunch, Muthusamy got a top edge off Rohit but the ball fell short of the fielder at backward square. That was the closest he came to getting his maiden Test wicket. The openers asserted themselves after that. Captain Faf du Plessis spread out the field but with the batsmen taking the aerial route (seven sixes were hit on Day 1) even that did not stop the flow of runs. Had rain not stopped play, things would have been worse for South Africa.