South Africa Cricket Setback: Immediate Improvement Required
“It’s all in the mind” is an idiom which perfectly describes South Africa’s setback caused by their weak batting display in the first Test. With a turning, deteriorating pitch in front of them, it seemed as though they already believed 218 would be a far too steep total to reach.
The dismissal of Hashim Amla gives stark evidence to the fact that the worry of spin was firmly etched within their minds. Similar to the wicket of Faf Du Plessis in the first innings, the Test captain and one of South Africa’s greatest players of spin was deceived by a straight ball, delivered cleverly by Ravindra Jadeja. ESPNcricinfo’s commentary put it best with the statement: “Batsmen seem to have already dismissed themselves in their minds before they walk out to the crease, you would think.” Sheer anticipation of spin caused the world number four batsman to leave the ball and such modes of dismissal became a feature of the South African innings throughout the match.
During his post match reflections, Amla was keen to point out that “there were quite a few dismissals due to lack of turn more than excess of turn.” It is worth noting, however, that the pitch was challenging and even Indian commentator, Sunil Gavaskar stated that “he had never seen so many cracks on a first day pitch.” This is precisely what played in the minds of the South Africans and while they were expected to put mind over matter and battle hard in the unfamiliar conditions, it proved a task too difficult for them. With India also being bowled out easily in both innings, however, and the bulk of the wickets falling to South African spinners (with part timer Dean Elgar amongst them), it proved that the pitch was an extremely testing one to bat on. Even the home side, which is filled with glorious players of spin, could only muster 201 and 200 in both innings respectively.
Players like Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara could hold their heads up high having performed admirably for their side in each innings. As Test specialists, they both played essential roles in creating a solid platform for India to build from. Stiaan Van Zyl’s dogged innings of 36 from 82 balls proved as the Indian top order did, that if you were patient and put in the required effort, making a substantial score would be possible even on this ground. Indeed, while the pitch had a role to play in the shortened three day Test match, much of the blame also lies in the minds and techniques of both the South African and Indian batsmen.
So where do they go from here? How do the no.1 ranked South Africans ensure their proud record of remaining undefeated in Test series away since 2006 remains intact? To do this, they need to maintain that winning mentality and belief that normally surges through the side in these Test match scenarios. Their capitulation against spin (or the lack thereof) was uncharacteristic of a team that has prided itself on being practically immune to troublesome foreign conditions that plague other sides. Sure, they have lost a couple of leaders in Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and even Alviro Petersen but with the excess of talent in their ranks, they would expect themselves to bounce back from this slight setback.
It will undoubtedly remain difficult to navigate the likes of Jadeja and the ever-consistent Ravichandran Ashwin on Indian soil but with three Tests still looming, South Africa must ensure they display the batting solidity which has been evident throughout their world dominance. With JP Duminy ready to return to their ranks ahead of Saturday’s Test match, South Africans will feel comforted that a key lynchpin of their batting and bowling line-up will be back in the fold. With Bangalore being their next host (the adopted home ground of no.1 batsman AB De Villiers), the Proteas will be hopeful of fighting back in his landmark 100th Test.
It is not by sheer luck that South Africa top the list of Test rankings and their superiority has been honed over a variety of challenging tours. It is time now for them to prove, from behind and with three matches to go, why they deserve to remain there for the foreseeable future.