IND A vs SA A | Takeaways - The chink in South Africa’s armour and India’s blossoming bench strength
South Africa ‘A’ saved their best for the last in Mysore as they put up their best batting performance of the tour to end the series on a high note. However, there's a danger that it might just turn out to be a false klaxon, as the loops and holes are out there in the open for India to exploit.
Teammates’ mediocrity overshadows Markram’s masterclass
From the drubbing in 2015 at the hands of India to the embarrassing whitewash against Sri Lanka last year, watching the Proteas struggle against spin has become a familiar sight. Now, two matches and eight days post their litmus test against a relatively strong Indian ‘A’ side, the results have come out, and the signs are worrying, to say the least. Bar Aiden Markram and Wiaan Mulder - who ironically isn’t a part of the Test squad - no South African player managed to score a fifty and in fact, of the 30 South African wickets to fall in the series, spinners accounted for 19 of them, which is no less than 63%. Now, one might argue that its due to the rupturing nature of the pitches which tend to wear down with time, but in stark contrast, India ‘A’ lost just 38% of their wickets to spin, shutting down arguments in favour of any demons in the pitch.
Zubayr Hamza, Senuran Muthusamy, Heinrich Klaasen and Thenuis De Bruyn, who are all part of the Test squad, could only manage a total of 176 runs in 9 innings between them, and more worryingly, were dismissed by spinners a baffling 7/9 times. If the struggle is such against the likes of Shahbaz Nadeem, Krishnappa Gowtham, Jalaj Saxena and Kuldeep Yadav, one wonders what’s in store when they come up against the real challenge, which, in all honesty, looks to be at least a level or two higher than the one they just encountered.
It is also flabbergasting that Temba Bavuma, who will be a key player in the Tests, was instead sent to tread the boards in coloured clothing - in a format which he is least comfortable with and where backups are aplenty - instead of holding him back to grind it out in whites ahead of the all-important Tests. While the knocks of Markram and Mulder - who South Africa should now consider directly drafting into the XI - are indeed positives to take away from this tour, it goes unsaid that the hopes for the rest of the batsmen indeed look bleak, if anything, and perhaps a miracle would be needed to turn things around once the real fun begins.
South Africa’s hopes depend on one man and it’s not KG Rabada
Ah, how often have we seen South Africa fall short in India despite having quality batsmen, just because of not possessing a spinner who was potent enough to run through the Indian batting line-up? From Robin Peterson to Nicky Boje to Paul Harris to Simon Harmer to Dane Piedt, the Indian batsmen, if anything, have feasted on the Proteas spinners in the last 15 years and often it has turned out to be an unbreachable barrier for the visitors. The tables have turned this time around and now the Saffers are stuck with a world-class spinner and a bunch of not-so-good-enough batsmen. Yes, we’re talking about Keshav Maharaj.
So what makes Maharaj the only hope for the Proteas this series? Is it just his sheer quality? Partly yes, but partly also because from what we witnessed in the ‘A’ series - the sight of their second and third best spinners Piedt and Muthusamy taken to the cleaners by the Indian batters. Yes, Piedt did finish as the series’ highest wicket-taker with 9 scalps to his name, but don’t let the numbers deceive you. Out of his nine wickets, four of them were of Mohammad Siraj and Shahbaz Nadeem (twice each), and if you weed out those wickets, the numbers don’t look pretty; an average of almost 55. On the other hand, Muthusamy’s lone wicket came in his fourth innings - that of Panchal who was batting on 109 - and his numbers too, don’t look pretty; a solitary wicket at an average of 153.
This in a series dominated by Indian spinners, who took 19 wickets at an average under 22. This highlights both the shortcomings of the Proteas batsmen against spin and the (lack of) rigidity of their spinners against quality batsmen. While it is not rocket science that Maharaj - who has taken 38 wickets in five County matches this season and has 16 wickets in two matches in the sub-continent - will decide the fate of the Saffers in October, things could get ugly if his comrades replicate their performances in the ‘A’ tour against Virat Kohli & his men.
India’s bench strength - too good to be true!
To say that the South Africans would be envious of India’s bench strength is probably an understatement. From one to eleven - despite a vast number of players playing in the Duleep Trophy - India fielded players with talent, ability, hunger and determination, players who without an ounce of doubt, would arguably walk into the current South African setup. Such was the dominance that five of the top seven wicket-takers in the series were from India, with three of those players playing two innings less than their Proteas counterparts. Similarly, six of the top eight run-getters from India, despite two of them featuring in just a solitary match.
While Shubman Gill and Karun Nair well head and shoulders above any other batsmen - both Indian and South African - the likes of Priyank Panchal, Jalaj Saxena and Shivam Dube, despite getting limited opportunities to play, ground down the Proteas bowlers till they sucked the living soul out of them, making them toil hard for every wicket. Nadeem and Gowtham, on the other hand, continued to put their hands up as they followed up their West Indies ‘A’ performances with strong and solid showings, politely reminding the selectors that they’re always there and thereabouts.
Perhaps an area where they’d like to do a bit of polishing would be the pace department, with both Siraj and Umesh Yadav blowing hot and cold, but there too, Shardul Thakur roar loud by knocking off the South African top order in the only game he got. It is indeed scary when you consider that the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan, Anmolpreet Singh and Avesh Khan - none of who have made their Test debuts till now - are still waiting on the sidelines.
Deepak Chahar highlighted post the Mohali T20 that the reason for India’s dominance was the consistency of the fringe players who treat every game like it’s their last, and by the looks of it, there’s every reason to believe that they do the same while representing India ‘A’ too.