South Africa faced their fifth successive Test defeat on Asian soil in Vishakhapatnam. Skipper, Faf du Plessis was still pleased about his side’s performance in the Test. “I am really proud of the first innings, the way that we batted”, said du Plessis after the conclusion of the first Test.
Knowing South Africa’s misfortunes with the bat, there was nothing peculiar about Faf’s delight. Suffering from the retirement of AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, this Protean team is supposedly the weakest to tour India since their re-admission. Yet, they fought their way through in the first innings of the Test to put 431 runs on the board - their first 300-plus total in Asia since July, 2014.
Thanks to the first innings hundreds from Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock, South Africa managed their best batting performance in Asian conditions in a long time.
But there are still big questions to answer for the touring party. One of which is Aiden Markram’s troubles starting against spin. The 25-year old batsman came into the series after scoring hundreds against India A, which included spinners like Shahbaz Nadeem and Kuldeep Yadav, and the Board President’s XI. But Markram’s confidence has been dented by India’s spin twins - Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, both of whom got him out in Vishakhapatnam within the first 10 overs of the innings.
In his brief career, Markram averages 54 against spin and nearly 41 against pace. But when it comes to starting against spin, he looks bewildered. In Sri Lanka last year, he was taken by Rangana Herath four out of four times, who opened the bowling for the Lankans. Consequently, Markram averages 304 against spin in South Africa but only 12.5 while starting against them in Asia.
Their number three and four, Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma, have only two Test hundreds between them. Although, de Bruyn showed his potential to bat on Asian tracks with a resounding second innings hundred in Sri Lanka but Bavuma has featured in 37 Tests with only one hundred to speak for his efforts.
The whole batting unit will also have the uphill task of countering Ashwin, Jadeja and Mohammed Shami, all three of whom hold an impeccable record against the Proteas. Jadeja, in fact, fancy bowling against the South Africans more than any other opposition.
However, the South African batting problems have overshadowed their bowling woes in Asian conditions which were, quite expectedly, highlighted in the first Test.
The Indian batsmen, in India average 42.4 since 2015 in 24 Tests. Next in line is England, approximately 31 runs per dismissal in five Test matches in the subcontinent country. It is not surprising that India lead the pack here but the gap between India and others is still astonishing.
The visitors conceded 317 runs before taking the first wicket during the first innings in Vishakhapatnam. It took only four sessions for India to push their opponents back on the back of their batting. It was a strange territory to be in for the Proteas’ bowlers who are generally seen at the top of their game more often than not.
South Africa appeared to be missing their prime fast bowler, Dale Steyn, who hung up his boots from Test cricket in August. Inarguably, their most successful fast bowler in Asia (92 wickets at a bowling average of 24.1), South Africa won nearly 32 percent of their Tests in Asia with Steyn in the side. Without him, since his debut, they have lost three and drawn one (the rained out Test in Bangalore, 2015). Kagiso Rabada, Steyn’s successor, has stepped into his shoes in almost every continent except Asia.
A good pace attack is the key, especially when you are turning up against Rohit Sharma, the opener. South Africa fielded three spinners, a move hard to argue against in India, but it also handed Rohit an opportunity to feast on the spinners.
Rohit shows no mercy to off-spinners against whom he has an average of 56 in Test cricket to complement a strike-rate of 64.7, both his best amongst all type of bowlers. As a result, Dane Piedt felt the heat of Rohit’s strokeplay going for 82 runs in the 67 balls he bowled to the Indian openers, including eight sixes.
Hence, it is imperative for South Africa to send Rohit back early and Faf du Plessis will need genuine fast bowlers for that job. Therefore, Lungi Ngidi can replace Vernon Philander in the XI for the Pune Test. Given that Vishakhapatnam has restored Faf’s faith in his side’s batting, the move seems feasible.
The Faf du Plessis-led team will also draw courage from the result of the last Test played in the city. Pune remains to be the only venue where India has lost a Test match since December 2012. On a dusty pitch, the Indian side was bowled out twice by Steve O’Keefe’s left-arm orthodox spin while batting second in the Test.
du Plessis said he is expecting more turn from the Pune surface compared to that of Vishakhapatnam. The Protea captain also advocated for scrapping of the traditional coin toss last year, in a bid to reduce home advantage by letting the visiting team decide what they want to do first. Walking for the toss with Virat Kohli on the Thursday morning, Faf would hope that the coin rolls down in his favor letting him elect to bat first or may be ponder about the ‘what ifs’ in the case the rule had been implemented by now instead of remaining only a topic of discussion in an ICC meeting last year.
India: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), Senuran Muthsamy, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi