“Interestingly, 8 of the 20 wickets which have fallen in this game so far, have gone to the spinners and we are just two days into this series — a scenario, which is quite unheard of in South African cricket”.
South Africa are yet to beat Australia at home in a Test series after readmission. In fact, the Aussies have dominated in that part of the world since Joe Darling’s team first toured the Rainbow Nation way back in 1902. The visiting Australian teams in the past won 10 of the previous 14 series, with the hosts winning just twice — the last one came almost 50 years back in 1970. Two series have ended in draws (1994 and 2011). Overall, Australia have won 28 out of the 50 Tests they have played with nine draws and 13 defeats.
So, coming into this four-match series, Faf du Plessis’ team is very much aware of the magnitude of the task at hand. The home side knows, to outclass this Steven Smith-led team, which is fresh from their 4-0 Ashes triumph at home, they need to think out of the box. And after watching the first two day’s play in Durban, it seems the South Africans have adapted to an unusual ‘slow’ strategy, which is a complete contrast to their gameplans, which we had seen during the Test series against India last month.
Thanks to the presence of quality fast bowlers in both line-ups, traditionally pace have been a talking point whenever South Africa and Australia have met in Test cricket. However, in all likelihood this time we might see an exception as like Durban the rest of the pitches in this series will be significantly less pace-friendly compared to the India series where the home team went with a four-pace attack in all the three matches.
Pace is Australia’s strength and South African think-tank doesn’t want to play it to their hand by providing seamer friendly wickets, especially after noticing the struggle of the Protea batsmen against the Indian seam attack in the Test series.
Hence, according to the author, the wickets will be on the slower side and someone like Keshav Maharaj and Nathon Lyon will have a bigger role to play than many experts would have anticipated before the start of this much talked about series.
“I think against Australia you potentially need to slow the game down, which they probably aren’t used to,” Dean Elgar, in fact, had no hesitation to share this point of view of the South African camp even before the start of the series. “A guy like Keshav [Maharaj] has played well against them in the past when we were in Australia, so he’ll play a big part in the series. Whether we play more quicks than what we usually do or less is up to the captain, coach and selectors.”
Well, Maharaj with his 5 for 123 indeed turned out to be South Africa’s best bowler in the first innings at Durban. He came into this first Test with just 36 overs under his belt from the India series. But it took just one delivery to suggest that he needs to play a more significant role against the Aussies.
Maharaj’s first delivery pitched outside off stump and struck David Warner on the back pad. Everyone but umpire Kumar Dharmasena was convinced that the batsman should have been given out, LBW. And remember, he was introduced into the attack in the 11th over of the day.
The 28-year old, who is playing his first Test on home turf, Kingsmead, was du Plessis’ best bowler on Day 1. He bowled 24 overs and claimed some important breakthroughs, including the big fish, Steven Smith.
On Day 2, he got rid of the tail and finished with a well-deserved five-for.
In hindsight, his counterpart Lyon too was up to the mark with three important scalps — Elgar, HashimAmla and Quinton de Kock as Australia bowled out the hosts for a below-par 162.
So, interestingly, 8 of the 20 wickets which have fallen in this game so far, have gone to the spinners and we are just two days into this series — a scenario, which is quite unheard of in South African cricket.
However, with the presence of an in-form Lyon in the Australian team, the hosts need to be careful here. Otherwise, there is every chance that the strategy of opting for spin-friendly tracks might backfire them.