India vs South Africa: Bowling allies and familiar follies
PUNE: Sometime around afternoon when Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander were grinding it out in the middle, some of the schoolchildren on free passes were busy drawing sketches on the floor of the South Stand at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium.Why wouldn’t they? Another 13,000 odd spectators had turned up despite the substandard facilities only to witness an attritional day of play. To say South Africa’s top-order surrendered meekly against a five-pronged Indian attack in what their batsman Temba Bavuma called “more South African type of conditions,” would be quite the understatement.
This was not a pitch that had demons. But once they get a whiff, this Indian attack can be ruthless. They reduced the Proteas to 136/6 at lunch. Even though Faf du Plessis fought a lone battle making 64, when he fell at 162/8, it was expected to be the final nail in the coffin.
Enter Maharaj and Philander, the bowling all-rounders. They kept dodging the Indians for more than two hours during a 109-run stand. Virat Kohli tried everything, but on a pitch still conductive for batting the two batted as if to hand a lesson or two to their batsmen and stretch the match into Day 4 and possibly 5, if India decide against enforcing the follow-on. It has to be seen how the bowlers feel on Sunday morning. At stumps on Day 3, the Proteas were dismissed for 275, trailing by 326 runs.
Even though many of their players spent a considerable amount of time in India over the past month with A tours and practice matches, not many would have fancied them to stand a chance at Visakhapatnam. But in Pune, where the pitch has plenty of bounce and is helpful for pacers in the morning and evening sessions, their bowlers have been outclassed by India’s Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
If Maharaj has struggled to apply any sort of pressure, Ravichandran Ashwin has been relentless with his line of attack. They once again struggled to dismantle the tail, but hey, this wasn’t a wicket where they were expected to get South Africa’s top eight back in the hut without any fuss.“I don’t have the answers to why it is going wrong. The obvious one is that we’re not able to put up partnerships,” Bavuma, who has made 18, 0 and 8 so far at No 4, said.
“We haven’t been able to absorb and sustain the pressure that Indian bowlers have put on us for consistent periods of time. Once the ball gets soft, after the 30th or 40th over, we can make inroads with the bat. I think for us the challenge is to getting to that 30th or 40th over without a lot of damage. One or two balls have spun as you would expect on the third day, and I am sure as the game progresses from tomorrow and by the time it gets to Day 5, it will start acting up more. It’s probably similar to what we get in South Africa.”
While they have struggled against Ashwin, as Bavuma pointed out, the pressure exerted by the Indian pacers with the new ball has made a key difference. Both in Visakhapatnam and here, South Africa’s top-order came in after spending more than 130 overs in hot conditions. On both occasions, they started Day 3 after losing three wickets the previous evening. And on both mornings, the Indian bowlers especially the pacers, managed more from the wicket than South Africa. In the first Test, they might be excused for it was a flat deck, but not here. There are runs for the taking here, but there is something for the pacers.
“I honestly found that it (pitch) was quite suited to our strength as a bowling unit. Probably being hypercritical, but you would’ve expected our bowling attack and the skill that we have to be able to make a lot more inroads, looking at the conditions. They obviously are doing something we are not. Or, their batters are playing bowlers better than our batters. Yeah, I think, their bowlers have really hit their strengths at this point of time,” Bavuma said.
India (1st innings): 601/5 decl. South Africa (1st innings, o/n 36/3): De Bruyn c Saha b Umesh 30, Nortje c Kohli b Shami 3, Du Plessis c Rahane b Ashwin 64, De Kock b Ashwin 31, Muthusamy lbw Jadeja 7, Philander 44 n.o, Maharaj c Rohit b Ashwin 72, Rabada lbw Ashwin 2. Extras (lb8) 8. Total (all out, 105.4 ovs) 275. FoW: 4-41, 5-53, 6-128, 7-139, 8-162, 9-271. Bowling: Ishant 10-1-36-0, Umesh 13-2-37-3, Jadeja 36-15-81-1, Shami 17-3-44-2, Ashwin 28.4-9-69-4, Rohit 1-1-0-0.