Finally South Africa were served a pitch that was typically Indian: dry, cracked and tailor-made to turn. The subcontinent flavor grew stronger with a top-order batsman’s century – Virat Kohli’s 138 off 140 balls – setting the stage for the spinners, who then completed a 35-run victory.
South Africa coach Russell Domingo, however, was not unduly worried about his batsmen’s aptitude on turning pitches – whether in ODIs or in the Tests that follow – but he was surprised that it had taken so long coming.
“We thought it would arrive earlier, so pretty pleased it’s only arrived in the second-last ODI,” Domingo said after the match. “Look this ground has got a history of the ball spinning. It’s not such a easy ground to chase. If you look at the history, not many high scores have been chased so I wouldn’t say concerned. They are a quality bowling side and they bowled well under the conditions, you have to give them credit for that.
“We pride ourselves as guys who play spin really well. If you look at the history of our side, we have gone to places and performed really well against spin and we are expecting the wickets to be similar to this in the Test matches and pose a great challenge for us and it’s something we are really excited about taking on. We want to beat some of the best sides in their conditions and its an opportunity for us to do that so we know it’s going to be tough, but we’ll be well prepared for it.”
Part of his confidence must stem from AB de Villiers’ performance. His 22nd century – the most by any South African in ODIs – was very smooth despite the wickets that kept falling at the other end. Alert feet took him down the pitch and supple hands afforded him power and placement when he went to sweep and reverse sweep. De Villiers felt at home against a quality spin attack led by Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra; his strike rate was over 100 against both of them.
But it wasn’t like he did not make errors. The ball did beat his bat. More than a few of his sweeps did not connect including one that he wore on the grille. But while he was able to get past those mistakes, his team-mates were not so lucky. Hashim Amla for one knocked a short ball straight to short midwicket to be first man out. He has scored only 66 runs in four matches so far but the lean patch does not worry Domingo.
“If you look at it, there are two players in the world who average over 50 in Test matches and One-day cricket that have played the game and Hashim Amla and AB de Villliers are the two,” Domingo said.
“Look, Hash is a quality player. All players have periods in their careers where they are maybe not churning out the runs like they should, but we know Hashim could get a hundred in Mumbai. He is that type of player. So he is massively important for us and we are not concerned about his form at the moment because we know he’ll come good at some stage.”
But David Miller’s prolonged slump is causing worry. Slotted back in the middle order – he opened in Rajkot – he struggled to take on the spinners and eventually fell to one that did not turn. His output in this ODI series – 6, 33, 0 and 13 – will need to pick up especially with South Africa forced to play without JP Duminy.
“We are concerned about David’s form at the moment. That particular position at 5 and 6, that maybe Suresh Raina will be able to tell you guys, is a very tough position. You often come in with three or four overs to play and if you get caught on the boundary people say you are out of form. If you come in with 25 overs to go and the team is four down and you come in and get a good nut, people say you are out of form. So it’s a very difficult position.
“You’ve got to be patient with players in that position, particularly in this country because it is the hardest place to bat. And you watch him in the nets, he’s playing really well. Just things aren’t working for him at the moment.”
A similarly down-on-his luck player in the South African ranks is Kyle Abbott. He hits the deck hard, has a good yorker and was in fine form in the T20 series. With Morne Morkel sidelined for this ODI due to injury, his chances of breaking into the XI appeared to have increased. But Chennai’s spin-friendly conditions meant the need for a second spinner could not be ignored and Aaron Phangiso was picked instead.
“He is such a good professional and you always want him to get into your side, but its quite difficult at the moment. We felt we needed a second spinning option without having JP there. We felt that on this wicket, historically the spinners seemed to be more effective than the seamers and that’s why we played the second spinner in Aaron Phangiso.
“It wasn’t Morris for Morkel. It was Phangiso for Morkel simply because Morris is the allrounder and he’s got to bat at No. 7 whereas Abbott’s fighting, I suppose with the guys like Morkel, Steyn, Rabada, Phangiso as the second spinner.”
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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