With the injuries of major players, South Africa are finding the going tough in the One-day International against India. It seems, they lack the quality in bench strength to fill the gap of senior players.
“No country gives its U-19 players as much exposure as India does,” one of the world cricket’s renowned commentators, Harsha Bhogle said.
When the lessons learnt on the grass root level provide the cricketer a solid base, the future has to be bright, for the both, country and cricketer himself. In the last few years, India have discovered major talents from across the country and they have ensured the youngster was given the required guidance in an attempt to strengthen Team India’s bench. The likes of Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Manish Pandey, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh were among the products of the Under-19 World Cup glory, who went on flourish even on the senior level. The fact that India now have the most number of Under-19 World Cup titles (four) testify that they indeed have the future always in mind.
You never know, all of a sudden a couple of injuries could take place in the middle of a crucial tour and that;s when the bench would come into the picture. Filling in the shoes for the best of the players is no easy task. It is a process which the team should begin well in advance. If that is not done, the team could find itself in a miserable position like South Africa is at the moment.
Prior to the limited-overs series against India began, the hosts suffered a major blow when their best ODI batsman, AB de Villiers, was ruled out due to a finger injury. By the time the first ODI ended in Durban, which the South Africans lost, their skipper coincidentally suffered a similar finger injury and was ruled out for the rest of the series. The worse happened when their wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock was ruled out with a wrist injury after the second ODI.
Two-nil down, a South Africa XI with an unfledged batting line-up, walked into the third match. They had just one senior batsman, Hashim Amla, the others were either new or not the best names in South African cricket as batters. Indian pacer Jasprit Bumrah drew first blood in the second over of the day and that saw their only senior player, Amla, was sent back to the dugout. It wouldn’t be totally wrong if one considered, right from their first dismissal, South Africa’s tail had begun.
South Africa’s all-rounder, JP Duminy, who had been on and off the team due to his consistency issues, came at the crucial No. 3 spot. Prior to the Cape Town ODI, Duminy had batted at No. 3 only once in the last five years. Not only that, he had reached the 50-run mark almost two years back and in a vital match, the team had no option but to give him the position that usually is reserved for the team’s best batsman. South Africa should have already prepared for injury crisis and they needed to have a reserve for No. 3 ready like India had.
In the current scenario, the Indian team’s bench strength is the best in the world. They have a pool of players who can fill the gaps and act as super replacements.
The Indian bench consists the likes of Manish Pandey and Kedar Jhadav, who might not be the first choice in a playing XI, but they have been given enough exposure to the intense level of international cricket in the recent times. If one of the openers gets injured, there is always Ajinkya Rahane who could be promoted to open and either of Pandey or Jhadev can replace him in the middle-order. If Indian wicketkeeper MS Dhoni gets injured or he cannot play for some reason, India has Dinesh Karthik as a backup keeper and middle-order batsman.
There is the young lad, Shreyas Iyer, who can bat at No. 3 in the absence of Virat Kohli. During India’s home series against Sri Lanka last year, India gave Iyer his India cap during the ODI series. In the absence of Indian skipper Kohli, Iyer came out to bat at No. 3 and with an average of 54 in three ODIs, Iyer has shown the talent and potential in him. With an experience of playing an international match and scoring two fifties as well in his debut series, he will be more comfortable to step up if India needed him to in an emergency of certain injuries in the team.
Most of the players on the bench are young and have come from going through rigorous training as India A and India Under-19 players. These days, the talent hunt has gone beyond that. The tournaments like Indian Premier League and the domestic List A and T20 tournaments are well recognised to take notice of the players. The teenage prodigies like Washington Sundar and Rishbah Pant, who earned fame through their IPL performances, have also been tried on the international level. Although they have just played a couple of T20Is, they will soon be tested in the 50-over format too.
In other words, the Indian team has its priorities straight and clear, considering their long-term mission, which was not the case for the South Africans.
Before the Indians toured the Rainbow Nation, Bangladesh played a full-fledged series there. South Africa should have taken that as an opportunity to give the likes of Khaya Zondo and Heinrich Klaasen some international experience. Both these players received their respective international debuts in the middle of a fierce India series and it went without saying that there was tremendous pressure on the two that would restrict them from playing their natural game.
Ever since de Kock took over South Africa’s full-time keeping, the side probably never looked to groom another backup keeper because, in the absence of de Kock, there was always de Villiers to wear the gloves again. The Proteas surely didn’t see a situation like this coming where both de Kock and de Villiers would be out with injuries. With 2019 Cricket World Cup just a year away, South Africa must take this setback as a lesson and work towards strengthening their bench keeping the future in mind.