PARTAB RAMCHAND | 29 SEPTEMBER, 2019
India Should Be Able to Maintain the Awesome Home Record
Series with South Africa begins Wednesday
How realistic are South Africa’s chances of winning the three-match Test series in India commencing on October 2? Not very must be the candid answer. Past record and present form are two very important criteria while analyzing a team’s chances and on both these counts India are well ahead. They are No 1 in the ICC rankings while South Africa are No 3 besides of course there is always the home advantage which will stretch that difference further. More to the point South Africa’s only triumph in a Test series in India came about in early 2000. Since then they have played four series in India and have drawn two and lost two.
The last defeat in India on the previous tour four years ago is particularly galling and must continue to haunt them till this day. They lost the four-match series 3-0 all by margins that brooked no argument – 108 runs, 124 runs and 337 runs. In the final Test at New Delhi their batsmen fought a battle of attrition that had not been seen on a cricket field for a very long time. In the second innings South Africa batted all of 143.1 overs for a total of 143. Repeatedly failing against the spin duo of Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja the batsmen decided on a defensive strategy that could tire out the bowlers. But nothing was achieved for the runs were not put on the board and ultimately the bowlers won the battle of attrition. The sight of Hashim Amla taking 244 balls to score 25 made for unusual viewing. Even more unusual was AB de Villiers batting almost six hours and requiring 297 balls to score 43.
The Indian think tank in a bid to clip the wings of South Africa’s strength – their pace attack – prepared pitches tailor made for spin. In the event the Indian pace attack too had little to do but Ashwin and Jadeja made the most of the conditions and repeatedly spun out the visitors ultimately finishing with 31 and 23 wickets respectively. The South Africans had in their ranks Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, Kyle Abbott and Morne Morkel but with their wings clipped by the pitches they proved to be ineffective. Their spin duo of Imran Tahir and the inexperienced Simon Harmer tried their best but they were no match for Ashwin and Jadeja who were also helped by the presence of a third spinner in Amit Mishra in two of the Tests.
It will be interesting to see the strategy employed by the Indian think tank this time. Will they again opt for spin friendly tracks given that Ashwin and Jadeja are still around with Kuldeep Yadav in tow? Of course they also have Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav. On the other hand the South Africans have Rabada, Philander, Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje and obviously pace is again their strength while the spin attack is restricted to Keshav Maharaj and Dane Peidt.
Skipper Faf du Plessis will have nightmares of that Test series four years ago. In seven innings he could muster up only 60 runs and in six of those outings he fell to either Jadeja or Ashwin. Du Plessis’ wretched form was symbolic of South Africa’s batting which in seven innings put up totals of 184, 109, 214, 79, 185, 121 and 143.
Of course that team also had Amla, de Villiers, Dean Elgar and JP Duminy. Placed alongside these names the current team’s batting is weaker though South Africa will be hoping that Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram strike form while Elgar and the skipper have another chance to come good.
In any case India’s batting is stronger particularly the middle order which is manned by Virat Kohli, Cheteswar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari. A lot of interest will centre round the opening pair which is expected to be Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal. India’s pace attack is on par with South Africa’s but as I said India really score when it comes to spin bowling.
In the ultimate analysis whatever the state of the surfaces India start clear favourites to win yet another series at home. In the last 15 years they have lost just two contests at home – to Australia in 2004 and to England in 2012. Against this South African side they should have little difficulty in maintaining their awesome home record.