The second Test in Bangalore, which ended in a draw owing to the weather, will go down in the annals of South African cricket as probably the greatest escape of all time.
The Proteas were skittled out for a paltry score of 214 runs on a pitch that had all credentials of a quality batting strip.
The Indian openers then made merry against South Africa’s supposedly superior seam attack. Truth be told, the arrival of the heavy rain for the remainder of the Test match must have felt like some divine intervention.
To be blunt, the Bangalore Test was a total disaster for South Africa from the time the match started until the heavens opened up. The South African batsmen, aside from AB de Villiers, looked like rabbits caught in headlights. They failed to deal with spin that really wasn’t even extreme. Even India’s fast bowlers had us hopping around at times.
From a personal perspective, it was really painful to see the fall of the last few scalps. It hurt to see the way wickets were given away when the team was in desperate trouble.
The final run out of Kyle Abbott took the cake. Meanwhile, Imran Tahir has no clue of what running between the wickets is all about, and clearly doesn’t understand the importance of the tail wagging even for a single run. It has to be extremely disheartening for bowlers when they watch wickets being gifted away so easily in tough conditions.
As far as South Africa’s bowling performance was concerned, they never really threatened to strike other than when Tahir dropped a catch off Morné Morkel. I expected more of a pattern to develop in order to create some sort of pressure, even if it was from one end, to stem the hemorrhaging of runs after a sub-standard batting performance in the first innings. Alas, it was not to be and the Proteas paid the price.
Captain Hashim Amla and coach Russell Domingo will be cognizant of the fact that the last decent performance by most of the Proteas batsmen was a long time ago. In my opinion, another few days off sitting around and working out in the gym is simply no substitute for finding form. Our batsmen need game time out in the middle in order to generate momentum and confidence. Somehow the senior players will need to rally and get something going, but it’s not going to happen before they arrive in Nagpur.
Amla is shy on form and Faf du Plessis has battled in all three outings. The likes of Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Villas have no experience to call on during these trying times and by now totally understand why playing in India is talked about as being a tough assignment. Learning how to rotate the strike whilst under pressure is not a commodity you can pick at your local supermarket. It is a skill that demands time at the crease.
On a positive note, Dean Elgar has impressed me as someone who has been prepared to stick it out and work really hard at the crease. He no doubt recognizes that being a member of the Test team is special and he wants to make every chance he gets count.
Back home, the pressure on the CSA system and the selectors has begun to mount as it always does when a team loses. Suddenly the non-selection of Quinton de Kock seems like a total blunder and letters concerning transformation aired in the media will of course be in the minds of management as the Proteas head into the all-important third Test.
The million rand question is: Can South Africa somehow turn this bus around? The simple answer is of course they can, but it’s definitely going to take more than just a good innings from De Villiers to reverse the tie. Senior players need to make bigger contributions in all departments. The first thing they need to do is come up with a plan to counter the pressure of spin. Subsequently, everyone needs to buy into it – from one to 11. Each of South Africa’s batsmen has to have his way of playing crystallized before he walks onto the pitch, and Domingo needs to have worked through it with each man.
Similarly, Amla has to ensure his bowlers clearly understand their roles and responsibilities. Unfortunately, Amla stands at slip, which is very far away from the ear of the bowler. As Test captain, perhaps he needs to re-visit his current fielding position.