South Africa’s ‘bold’ selection call backfires
After weeks of hype surrounding the supposed return of Duanne Olivier, who’d ripped the 2021/22 four-day-franchise season apart (28 wickets at 11.14 apiece) and has a scarcely-believable international record, Dean Elgar, at the toss, dropped a bombshell. The Proteas skipper revealed that it would be uncapped Marco Jansen, and not Olivier, who would take the place of Anrich Nortje in the starting XI.
After what unfolded across 90 overs on Day 1, though, it is hard not to feel that the hosts erred big time with the decisive selection call.
Excited by the left-arm angle and his 6’8 frame, the Proteas management threw their weight behind Jansen, who was coming fresh off a decent outing against India A. On the day, however, despite beating the bat on multiple occasions, even inducing the outside edge of both the openers, his was a selection that bombed.
Jansen provided neither control nor consistency and conceded a staggering 12 boundaries as he ended with figures of 0/61 off his 17. Evidently, he simply looked too green, and his inexperience was exacerbated by the nerves that accompanied him all through the day, typified by the rank wide full-toss he delivered first-up.
Forget Jansen, the decision to leave out an in-form, warmed-up Olivier appeared to be a blunder immediately after the first spells of both Rabada and Ngidi.
Having played no red-ball cricket since June, the senior pacers were both rusty and bowled too short and too wide up-front. Really, they wasted the new-ball, and their ineffectiveness up-front set the tone for the day.
The need of the hour was a mature, experienced third-seamer who could bring calm but the greenness and over-keenness of Jansen added to the chaos. If nothing, Olivier should have made the XI owing to the mere fact that, prior to the series, he had more than 100 overs of red-ball bowling under his belt.
Leaving out Olivier was sure an unpopular call. By the looks of it, definitely not the right one too.
England was not a false dawn - KL 2.0 is here
Ahead of the series, we wondered if Rahul could double-down on his showing in England and actually deliver when the pressure was on, in the absence of Rohit Sharma and with the middle-order misfiring.
Oof, if there ever was an emphatic ‘YES’, this was it.
In England, we saw a completely different version of Rahul. He had a never-seen-before clarity in decision making and simply looked impregnable even in extreme bowler-friendly conditions. The conditions in Centurion today were not as extreme as they were in Lord’s or Edgbaston, but Rahul looked as good as he ever has donning the whites.
Rahul’s success in England four months ago was largely down to his off-stump awareness, the way he left the ball, and today in Centurion, it was once again his ‘leaving’ that laid the foundation for what was a stunning century. At times he channeled his inner Labuschagne by loudly yelling ‘no run’ in his own Bangalorean accent, but the discipline he showed today would undoubtedly have made Marnus proud.
KL Rahul's discipline in the first hour of Day 1
Overall Rahul left 29% of the balls he faced, but this figure stood at a staggering 37.3% after his first 150 balls. Sure the Proteas bowled too wide for the most part, but it was as if Rahul exactly knew where his off-stump was. The bowlers tried their best to tempt him but every attempt at drawing a false stroke in the fourth/fifth stump channel failed. Often they acknowledged the failure with a ‘damn you’ smirk.
And he left the balls in his own quirky fashion - playing a dummy straight drive before hiding the bat behind the pad. The same motion we witnessed in England.
This ‘leaving’ is indeed the biggest change he’s made in his game; it is the cornerstone of his success. Prior to the England tour, Rahul left just 21.9% of the balls he faced in SENA countries. Already in nine innings since, this figure has risen to 29.2%. Early days, but the results are already there for the world to see.
Loose technique and a fragile mind stalled Rahul’s Test career three years back, but now he seems unstoppable after having tightened both those things.
He will know to not get too far ahead though. His first goal will be to ensure to convert this overnight score of 122* into a daddy hundred - something he failed to do in England.
Did Elgar make the right calls on the field?
Dean Elgar may or may not have had a say on the non-selection of Olivier. He did, however, have full control of everything that unfolded on the field on the first day. And it has to be said that the decision-making of the newly-appointed skipper, whose captaincy skills were barely tested in the Caribbean, at times left a lot to be desired.
When Kohli walked in to bat in the 41st over, on the back of two quick wickets, there was the opportunity to exert real pressure on the Indian skipper by bombarding him with seam, particularly with the wicket doing quite a bit. Understandably Elgar couldn’t have brought on Rabada, who had just finished a seven-over spell, but nothing stopped South Africa from deploying the other three seamers, at least for the next 30 minutes or so.
But Jansen was pulled after a two-over spell, after which Maharaj was introduced. And flabbergastingly, the seamers did not bowl in tandem for the next 25 overs, with the left-arm spinner constantly occupying one end.
Maharaj barely posed a threat - Kohli had 95% control against him - and this enabled the Indian skipper to quite comfortably motor along. It was a move that, inherently, seemed defensive in nature. 25 overs later seam was bowled in tandem to Kohli again, and it only took the Proteas three overs to see the back of the Indian skipper.
The usage of Rabada was also questionable. With three of the four seamers being medium pacers, you would ideally want your quickest bowler - which in this case is Rabada - to throw everything at the batters in short bursts, but Elgar, up front, used the right-armer in a seven-over spell and a six-over spell. He was asked to do the donkey work and, as a result, Rabada’s speeds were down the whole day, with him averaging just 136 kphs.
Perhaps if Rabada had been used more efficiently and effectively, he could have had an early crack at Kohli. Today, by the time Kohli first faced Rabada, he’d already seen off 59 balls.
Elgar will certainly learn, but he cannot afford to have more such bad-captaincy days in this series. His side have already started to play catch-up.