Learning on the job is going to be essential for the inexperienced Proteas if they are going to bounce back in the last two Test matches against India.
JOHN GOLIATH looks at five lessons South Africa can take out of the first Test against India.
The Proteas had their first taste of life after Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn in the heat and humidity of Visakhapatnam. It ended up being a bitter-sweet Test match for the South Africans.
The bitter was substantially more than the sweet, as the Proteas went down by 203 runs after struggling to match the Indians across all departments but there was enough sweet to suggest that they can actually get something out of the remaining two Tests.
The batting remains a concern, as the middle order is still quite brittle following the retirement of Amla and AB de Villiers. Experienced batsmen Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock batted nicely in the first innings to keep their team in the game.
The second innings was terrible as the Proteas slumped to 70-8, before off-spinner Dane Piedt and all-rounder Senuran Muthusamy gave the score some respectability with a 91-run partnership for the ninth wicket.
However, both Piedt and debutant Muthusamy both struggled with the ball, taking two wickets between them and going for more than 4.6 runs to the over in the match. Keshav Maharaj was the pick of the spinners with five wickets, but that’s not without going for some tap in the second knock.
Spinners bowled inconsistent speeds, lengths
Piedt and Muthusamy, and to a lesser extent Maharaj, struggled to combine the right speed with the right length. The Indians are wonderful players of spin, and Rohit Sharma put the South Africans under pressure with the brilliant use of his feet in his two centuries in both innings. With Sharma and Co taking the game forward, it made it difficult for captain Du Plessis to get any sort of control. It’s unlikely that all three spinners will feature in the next Test in Pune, with Muthusamy likely to fall out despite his heroics with the bat. But the spin duo to feature will have a much better idea of what strategy is going to work under these conditions.
Proteas need to find a better balance
The poor batting display could bring a couple of changes to the lineup for the second Test. South Africa went into this contest with six frontline batsmen and five bowlers, including Muthusamy. An extra batsman is likely to be added for Pune, which probably means that one of the spinners will have to make way. It’s likely to be a straight shootout between Piedt and Muthusamy. Off-spinner Piedt will probably retain his place in the team, because he offers an alternative to Maharaj’s left-arm spin. Muthusamy bowled just three overs in India’s second innings, even though he got the big wicket of Virat Kohli in the first innings. His role is somewhat part-time and something Elgar could easily fulfill with the ball.
Fast bowlers need to bowl a lot straighter to get wickets
Despite the flat, dry pitch, Vernon Philander got the ball to move off the seam on quite a few occasions. He dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara twice with deliveries that straightened off from a good line and length. It’s something Indian fast bowler Mohammed Shami did in the Proteas’ second innings, where he bowled straight and got the ball to do the work off some of pitch. Kagiso Rabada also needs to use the old ball to get wickets. Yes, he was unlucky in the second innings in first Test when he found the outside edge of the bat with the old ball, but needs to back his yorker a lot more when the ball is reversing.
Bat De Kock at four
There is no doubt that the star wicketkeeper is currently South Africa’s best batsman. He played a top knock in the first innings coming in at No 6 and combined quite splendidly with Elgar to help South Africa get a competitive score after India declared on 502-7. The retirement of Amla and De Villiers has left a big hole at Nos 3 and 4, which Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma are struggling to fill. Ultimately, you want to your best player to face the most balls to score runs. De Kock is a wonderful player batting with the tail, but his talents are better used at No 4 where he can score big runs and do it in quick time.
Elgar remains the rock
While the De Kock is the best batsman in the team, Elgar remains the rock. His 160 in the first innings was the glue that kept the innings together when the middle order buckled under pressure. Elgar is the ultimate scrapper, a dogged and determined player who relishes the fight. The opener puts a hefty price on his wicket, which should be a lesson for De Bruyn and Bavuma. Both are far more elegant and pleasing to the eye, but need to add that fight and battle to make it at this level. Elgar is the sort of streetfighter you need for a scrap on the dust bowls of India.
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