The Proteas have to show more urgency and innovation against the Indian spinners in the remaining ODI matches.
Is there any way back from here?
India thrashed South Africa by 124 runs at Newlands on Wednesday. The win was set up by Virat Kohli, who hit an unbeaten 160 to propel his side beyond the 300-mark. And yet the manner in which the Proteas batsmen capitulated in the latter stages – losing a total of eight wickets to the wrist-spinners – was yet another example of the side’s struggles with slow bowling.
The upshot is that India have taken an unassailable 3-0 lead in the six-game series. Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have played a key role in recent matches. Together, India’s leg-spinners have taken 21 of South Africa’s 28 wickets.
Would it have been any different had AB de Villiers featured in the first three matches, or if Faf du Plessis was around for the games in Centurion and Cape Town? Perhaps.
De Villiers and Du Plessis are renowned for their abilities against spin bowling. The latter hit 120 in the first ODI in Durban, and is one of only two South African batsmen to score more than 50 in the first three matches of the series.
JP Duminy scored 51 at Newlands on Wednesday. It would be inaccurate to say he combated the challenge, though, as he was dismissed by Chahal soon after reaching the milestone.
Afterwards, Duminy made a concerning admission to reporters at the ground. He credited Chahal and Yadav for adapting to the conditions.Duminy went on to laud them for their ability to vary their length and pace. Then came the confession: South Africa’s best batsmen had no response.
Did they have a plan to rectify matters in the coming games?
‘We’re working on one,’ Duminy offered. The veteran batsman didn’t give one the impression that the brains trust was on the verge of a breakthrough, though.
De Villiers should be fit for the next match at the Wanderers. The Proteas will be counting on him to make a difference.
De Villiers is not one to be contained. If anything, he will use his feet in an attempt to put the pressure back on the opposition.
However, as Duminy said on Wednesday night, South Africa have failed to put together many significant partnerships in this series. It’s going to take more than one man to overcome India’s spinners and get the hosts back into this six-game contest.
Consider the extent to which Chahal and Yadav have dominated over the first three matches. The mystery spin, slow spin, or whatever you want to call it has already yielded 21 wickets for only 190 runs (an average of nine runs per wicket). Chahal and Yadav have combined for an incredible strike rate of 15, as well as an economy rate of 3.60 runs per over.
What these numbers show is that the Proteas are struggling to score as well as protect their wickets. Duminy explained that getting down the track is not an option when you’re failing to pick the delivery out of the hand.
Worryingly for the Proteas, it’s been the top-six batsmen who have struggled. As many as 13 of the 21 victims have been frontline batters. Chahal has been the real danger man when one considers that eight of his 11 scalps are those of specialists.
Aiden Markram has succumbed to one of the leg-spinners on all three occasions, as has Duminy. Quinton de Kock and Khaya Zondo have featured in two of the three ODIs, and have fallen to Chahal on both occasions.
So, to repeat the question, is there any way back for the Proteas from here? What kind of plan can they formulate in the space of a few days, and what change in approach can we expect to see at the Wanderers?
The Proteas need to find these answers sooner rather than later. They’ve spoken about preparing for the 2019 World Cup, and the value of facing a well-balanced ODI outfit like India, who recently overtook South Africa at the top of the ICC rankings.
Thus far, the series has highlighted a lack of depth as well as a lack of fight. The margins of defeat – six wickets in Durban, nine wickets in Centurion and 124 runs in Cape Town – suggest that a change in approach and mindset is desperately needed.
The side has been without De Villiers, Du Plessis and De Kock at various stages of this series. However, when one considers the performances of the past few years, South Africa have been struggling with the bat for some time. We saw that at the 2017 Champions Trophy, when a couple of poor batting performances cost the Proteas a place in the playoffs.
The Proteas have to get things right in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup. They will have to deal with spin at some stage of that tournament, and there’s a strong chance that they will face India in either the group stages or – shudder – a playoff.
A successful fightback in the remaining three games may give South Africa some hope ahead of a possible do-or-die scenario next year. India’s spinners, of course, will be looking to strengthen their mental hold on the Proteas’ best.
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