India Vs South Africa 3rd Test: Dread rubber
Indian Express 18 Oct 2019 07:40 AM
On their tour of South Africa in 2018, India had won the third Test after losing the first two. But don't expect any such heroics from the depleted and demoralised Proteas when they take the field on Saturday.
Dean Elgar needed a concussion test after being hit on the grille by a Jasprit Bumrah bouncer. On-field umpires Ian Gould and Aleem Dar had stopped play because they wanted to consult with match referee Andy Pycroft if the Wanderers pitch was too dangerous for the third Test between South Africa and India in January last year to continue.
It was only the third time in the history of Test cricket that a match had been stopped because the umpires weren’t satisfied with the condition of the pitch. Eventually, after Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli met the match officials, it was decided that the game would continue. India went on to win by 63 runs on a pitch which at times virtually took the mickey out of the batsmen from both sides. Kohli’s team showed courage and character to bounce back after losing the first two Tests of the three-match series.
Cut to the present, and the JSCA International Stadium at Ranchi would be hosting the third Test between the two teams from Saturday. India have already won the first two of the series but an India-like comeback, a la Jo’burg, looks well-nigh impossible from the Proteas here. A depleted squad hampers their chances all right, but that’s just a side story. With the JSCA pitch unlikely to offer any unpredictability, the visitors will have very little ‘elbow room’ to cause an upset. On a level playing field, Kohli’s India are head and shoulders above du Plessis’s South Africa in terms of quality.
Till early evening on Thursday, the Ranchi pitch had a thin grass cover. A member of the ground staff predicted no further change. He described the 22 yards as “a typical Indian wicket”, offering scope to read between the lines.
No, it’s not going to be a dust bowl and the autumn sunshine won’t be harsh enough to disintegrate the top soil. But spin could be a “major factor” from the third day onwards. A thin grass cover is expected to help the quicks initially.
Black clay soil is used for pitch preparation at this venue. “It’s a very high quality clay soil that rules out the possibility of the pitch turning into a dust bowl,” the groundsman informed, adding that this type of soil has a “structural difference” compared to the pitch for the second Test in Pune, for example, because of its “different chemical composition”.
When a black clay soil of this type is used, the top soil becomes “very hard” after rolling. The JSCA ground staff have been working on the pitch for the last 15 days.
Black clay soil is not inimical to producing a rank turner. It depends on the preparation and the amount of grass left on the surface. Also, the pitch behaves differently depending on the way the curator puts the finishing touches; whether it’s glossy or a matt finish. It is learnt that the JSCA Stadium surface has a significant tilt towards the latter.
The World Test Championship has given context even to dead rubbers. South Africa might have lost the first two Tests, but they still have 40 points to play for in the final game of the series. Every Test series under the World Test Championship has a total of 120 points at stake. But to make matters worse for the visitors, their leading spinner, Keshav Maharaj, has been ruled out of the Ranchi Test due to a shoulder injury he suffered in Pune.
After insult, self-inflicted injury
The left-arm spinner carried the bulk of South Africa’s spin bowling in the first two Tests — 127 overs and six wickets. His replacement, 27-year-old George Linde, is yet to play an international match. The other two spinners in the Proteas ranks, Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthusamy, have looked pedestrian so far.
Also, opener Aiden Markram is out of the third Test with a self-inflicted wrist injury. He had “lashed out at a solid object” after his dismissal in the second innings at Pune. His frustration was a carry-forward of a howler – the opener chose not to review a leg-before decision, while replays showed the ball would have missed leg stump.
“A CT scan of Aiden Markram’s wrist showed a fracture involving the wrist bones. The medical team has therefore ruled him out of the next Test match against India. Arrangements have been made for him to see a specialist on his return to South Africa for further management of the injury,” South Africa team doctor Hashendra Ramjee said.
Markram departed for South Africa on Wednesday and his parting quotes captured his disappointment. “It’s sad to be going home on this note and I completely understand what I have done wrong and take full accountability for it. It’s unacceptable in a Proteas environment and to let the team down is what hurts me the most. I have learned a lot from this and the other players, I’m sure, have learned from it as well.”
There’s a silver lining though, as Lungi Ngidi is edging closer to full fitness. If the fast bowler returns to the fold, then he and Kagiso Rabada will form a formidable new-ball pair. But to bounce back on a “typical Indian surface”, South Africa probably need to take a leaf out of Peter Handscomb’s book.
In March 2017, when Ranchi hosted the third Test between India and Australia, Handscomb’s ‘never-say-die’ 72 not out in the second innings had earned a respectable draw for the Aussies. In the first innings, Steve Smith was resplendent in his mastery; an unbeaten 178.
Batting-wise, the post-AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla South Africa barely retain a link to world-class look. They aren’t showing enough resolve either.