South Africa’s attack has seldom felt as much strain as they do on their current tour of India, despite the focus of their failures falling squarely on the batting. The top-order’s inability to bed in, the extra burden placed on the middle order and the lower-order rescue acts – that have only rubbed salt in the specialist batsmen’s wounds – have all been analysed in the aftermath of the defeats at Visakhapatnam and Pune. So some attention ahead of the final Test in Ranchi will turn to the bowlers, who acknowledge they have also found it difficult to find form.
“We’ve been put under immense pressure,” Kagiso Rabada said. “I don’t know if we can be put more pressure than that.”
India piled on totals in excess of 500 and 600 in the first innings of the two Tests, where South Africa were not only unable to control their scoring rate but also failed to bowl them out. In fact, South Africa last took 20 wickets in a Test match nine months and five Tests ago, when they beat Pakistan at home. Since then, South Africa have failed to bowl both Sri Lanka and India out twice each, albeit it in vastly different conditions.
At home against Sri Lanka, where South Africa generally rely on their quicks, they lacked the firepower to remove Sri Lanka’s tail. In India, where South Africa attempted to counter conditions with a more spin-heavy attack, their slower bowlers barely threatened and their fast men have also appeared ineffective, even when conditions have offered some assistance such as on the first morning in Pune.
Rabada, who is South Africa’s leading seamer, only has four wickets from two matches, half that of Mohammed Shami and two fewer than Umesh Yadav. He believes the difference between the two packs has been the home team’s ability to generate some reverse-swing, while South Africa have not found any. “They got the ball to reverse and they bowled well as a collective,” Rabada said. “Their whole attack put pressure on us in every single aspect. Their spinners bowled well and when the ball was reversing their seamers could exploit that. We didn’t really get the ball to reverse and that’s a major weapon of ours.”
That’s not the only reason for South Africa’s lack of success. Often, they have bowled too wide and as Shami showed, attacking the stumps brings reward. More often, they have not found the right length, relying on short balls when pitching it up has proved more successful for India. Overall, South Africa lack the pace and penetration sides of the past have had on the subcontinent with no-one able to emulate Dale Steyn. There is also the issue of inexperience. Rabada, though tasked with being the frontman, is only 24 and it should be Vernon Philander who leads the attack but he has struggled on unhelpful surfaces. Anrich Nortje is on his first tour and Lungi Ngidi, who is in the squad, has not been passed fit enough to play a Test yet.
All that has put South Africa in a difficult position, from which few can see a way out. Rabada is taking the long view and hopes that this is merely a result of one era ending as another has yet to begin. “It’s never nice to lose, especially in the manner we’re losing right now but we’re going through a transition period,” he said. “Our team is fresh and young, so the best thing we can do is look at where we can improve and remember our strengths and build on them.”
The trouble is that for most of Rabada’s career South Africa have been in the same position. He made his Test debut in India by this time four years ago and then South Africa’s best period came in the 2017-18 home summer when they beat Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, India, and Australia at home. But their form has since been patchy as they search for consistency. Rabada hopes something can start in Ranchi, where South Africa will look to put in a better all-round display. “From a physical point of view we need to execute our skills and from a mental point of view, we need to believe we can do it in certain situations,” he said. It’s a balance we’re working on.”
Bangladesh’s planning under scanner after Mehidy Hasan replaces concussed Liton Das
Bangladesh’s decision not to add more batsmen into their Test squad even after two of them became unavailable for the pink-ball game in Kolkata came into sharp focus when they were forced to use a spinner – Mehidy Hasan – as a concussion substitute for wicketkeeper batsman Liton Das.
Mehidy cannot bowl because he came into the XI for a batsman and as per the ICC Playing Conditions, a concussion substitute has to be a like-for-like replacement and perform the same role as that of the concussed player.
Liton was hit on the helmet by a Mohammed Shami bouncer in the 20th over of Bangladesh’s innings. He decided to bat on, struck two fours but walked off seven balls after being hit.
Saif’s injury was confirmed on November 20, two days before the game, and although there are 30-minute flights between Dhaka and Kolkata, no one was was flown in. Mosaddek meanwhile, had left the Test squad on November 11, even before the first Test, to be with his ailing family member, but the BCB didn’t name a replacement.
‘We know each other’s roles when we’re out there’ – David Warner on partnership with Joe Burns
David Warner and Joe Burns believe their commanding 222 opening stand against Pakistan at the Gabba will be the resumption of a beautiful friendship, after a previously promising union was effectively broken up by the wiles of Sri Lanka’s spinners as far back as 2016.
Always comfortable in each other’s batting company, Warner and Burns were strong partners in 2015-16, including another major stand against New Zealand in Brisbane, before they were split up and left with plenty of challenges, culminating in Burns’ extended time out of the team and Warner’s ban in 2018. They were almost reunited for this year’s Ashes series, but the belated union at the Gabba instantly showed why they had so enjoyed providing starts for Australia in the past.
Warner was hopeful that this time around he and Burns would be given an extended run as partners, both for this home summer and the challenges beyond it.
“Yes is the answer. I reckon I threw the toys out of the cot a lot there as well, that was a challenging series for a lot of us,” Warner said of Sri Lanka in 2016 when Burns was dropped. “But look the success we’ve had together, especially here at home has been fantastic, and as Joe said before, we just have this energy about us when we’re out there, we communicate a lot, we’re always talking about cricket, even though we probably wouldn’t want to talk about it but we do.
“But the most important thing is rotating strike. When we do that well, it’s hard for bowlers to put it on the spot all the time when you’re doing that. I know I try to achieve that when we’re out there, if I can’t get the ball away or it’s got to be respected, I try and tuck it in on the leg side or we drop and run. A lot of the fielders hang [back] a little bit, especially when I’m on strike, so I’m always looking around for that drop and run, and I know he looks to get off strike as well. Knowing each other’s roles when we’re out there, we do that very well. We did it the other day in the nets, we had a good half-hour session where we said we’re going to run if we think there’s a run and rotate it six balls.”
For his part, Burns stated that the combination of a left-hand batsman and a right-hand batsman was always useful, in addition to a good feel for each other’s batting tendencies. “I think the left-hand, right-hand certainly helps, and I’ve always said batting with Dave is really easy,” Burns said. “You get down the non-striker’s end, you look up and the scoreboards’ ticking along, there’s no pressure to score. I think the biggest thing for me is just the engagement we have, we’re always talking about how the bowlers are trying to bowl, where we can score, where the threats are.
“When you have a combination like that with your partner, you lean on your partner during the tough times, and as the innings develops there’ll be scoring opportunities for each of us. I think we saw that today, the Gabba can be a great place to bat once you get in, and if the bowlers are missing their areas, and left-hand, right-hand certainly helps with that.
“The way we prepare as well, having someone who’s been there and done it, someone to talk to about how they’re going to go about their preparation and walking out into battle with them makes it a lot easier. You’d be silly not to lean on guys in our team who have the experience and success that guys like Davey has had.”
Reflecting on his time out of the team, Warner noted how it had given the likes of Burns, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne the start to gain a foothold in the team, while also granting him a physical and mental break from the treadmill of international cricket.
“It was obviously fantastic [to be back] – on the other hand it was a great opportunity for other guys to step up and show what depth Australian cricket has and I was chuffed for this guy next to me to get some runs and play the way he did,” Warner said of Burns. “He was unlucky not to get selected in the Ashes touring group, but to come out here and put that on the board and have that time off to reflect, and just get away from the game.
“There’s a lot more to life than just cricket and I really loved the time I spent at home with my family. You don’t get that when we’re travelling all the time. You come home, sometimes you’re not in form and you can throw the toys out of the cot and that can hinder your relationships. But for me it was a level grounding and I really enjoyed that time off. Obviously I’m back now and I’ve got to keep working hard and keep being respectable of the game, because it can bite you in the backside very fast.”
Burns, too, had faced time away from the national team, and had won respect from several key observers by responding to his omission from the Ashes squad by taking a European holiday and returning fresh and ready for the home season. His northern summer and a contract with Lancashire had been broken up by a case of post-viral fatigue.
“I don’t think you really have much choice,” he said of not sulking over his non-selection. “Selections come and go in this game, there’s so many games you play these days that you’ve just got to make sure you’re making runs. There’s always a training session around the corner, always a game to play around the corner. I came home, got stuck into pre-season with the Queensland boys and wanted to hit the ground running with three Shield games at the Gabba, which I knew was going to be tough work and just wanted to be batting well.
“I knew if I was batting well there’d be opportunities there. It was great to watch the boys on TV playing in the Ashes, obviously you get left out and of course you want to be there trying to help out in any way you can, but I knew my job was to make sure if I was called upon in the home summer that I was ready to go. Tried to use that as my motivation and get stuck into it.
“It’s a very bitter feeling getting bowled around your legs on 97 by a legspinner at the Gabba. But I was really satisfied with how I batted, felt like I did a lot of things right and I know if I bat more often than not, hopefully it equates to plenty more runs. I’ll just try to be better in the 90s next time and go and bat all day and come out tomorrow and do it all again. Look at Davey, he finished 150 not out, those are the sorts of innings that win Test matches.”
Warner likens Naseem to a young Mohammad Amir
Naseem Shah was denied a first Test wicket by the calling of a no ball after the fact, but he had consolation in a generous assessment by David Warner, who made the most of the second chance to bat through day two of the Gabba Test for Australia.
“He’s quite skiddy, got a nice fluent action, but he won’t get a harder Test debut than out there and bowl at the Gabba,” Warner said of 16-year-old Naseem. “To keep coming back in, having to back up the overs, that heat. You ask any Test fast bowler who’s played here and had to keep coming back, it’s very challenging out there, and our job as batsmen is to try and keep them coming back. I think he kept his speed up quite a lot throughout the whole day. The back end he cramped up a little bit, but that’s obviously going to happen.
“He charged in, and there’s a superstar there. Like when Mohammad Amir came on the scene, the first time, he was rapid and had us all in a pickle. He was a world class bowler, and if you add him to the Test lineup as well, their depth is ridiculous, and having these other young guys like Musa and Hasnain as well, who I faced in the T20s. If Waqar Younis can get a hold of them and get their lines and lengths and their engines going, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future.”
Those words of encouragement were as good as it got for Pakistan on an otherwise barren day, as Warner, Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne were so supreme as to prevent the Ashes dominating Steven Smith from even getting a bat. Yasir Shah, who continued his own personal battle to try to find the right way to bowl in Australia, was blunt in assessing how the pace bowlers had used the new ball in the absence of Mohammad Abbas.
“The wicket played very differently to the way it did on day one. The kind of moisture we saw wasn’t there,” he said. “We bowled badly with the new-ball. We didn’t use it well. That allowed them to get set and they played well.
“We’ll have to see how tomorrow goes. There was a little bit of help later on. I didn’t get too many breakthroughs but there was quite a bit of bounce on offer. Our bowlers have used the second new-ball well. So I hope that we come back tomorrow and bowl well.”
Yasir, who may have been close to losing his place for the match, explained how he had tried to experiment with pace and line to find a way past Warner. “I changed and mixed my pace around quite a bit today,” he said. “I bowled slow and also at times a bit fast. You have to do that on these pitches. Your ball can skid with the faster one and bring you a wicket. I tried my best to bowl at one spot, which I’ve done in the past and they played me well.
“Today I did the same, but also with some variations and they played me well again. There wasn’t much support from the wicket. It’s just the second day of the Test. You just need to find the right spot from where you can get the ball to jump and get you wickets at short-leg and at close-in positions. And if the ball breaks even a bit off the pitch, there’s a chance of getting an edge to slip.
“That’s what I tried but without much success since there wasn’t much turn off the wicket. But I’ll try to do the same tomorrow morning and hopefully it’ll work out.”
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