Under the grey sky and on a fresh wicket, the ball moved around. The Australian opening batsmen were cautious for almost one hour but later on decided to flex their muscles as hanging around the park will not fetch anything better in South Africa.
When one mentions Test cricket, the first images that crop up are undoubtedly that of a bowler, in fine rhythm steaming in to bowl yet another back of a length delivery as the batsman, standing upright and alert threatens to pull him away for yet another boundary. When a bowler uses his height to get help off the pitch, the batsman shifts to playing several on and off drives that reduce the carnage being unleashed by the bowler. When he attacks his offstumps, he goes into an over-drive and thwarts the bowler’s plans by getting under their skin. The man with the cherry then, remains befuddled and confused, unaware of his plans going ahead, while the bowling captain too is forced to keep bowling his bowlers for more than a spell and the pressure that had been created is soon undone by a fierce display of counter-attacking batting by the batsman.
One need not jog our memories further than the Test series against India in South Africa when this tactic was time and again used by the batting side to stamp their authority over the rival camp. It all began in the first session of the first Test match itself when AB de Villiers came to the crease after the Proteas had been rattled by Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s accurate line and length to lose 3 wickets for just 12 runs. Starting off with a four, de Villiers showed his intent and over the course of his innings, he square drove and pulled with élan, even smashing Bhuvi for four consecutive sixes in the ninth over. He eventually fell for a well-made 65 in 84 deliveries, in a knock that comprised 11 fours, and it would not be a hyperbole to suggest that his aggressive innings set the tone for the Africans, who then compiled 286 in the first innings, to take the game away from the Indians.
The same game displayed yet another brilliant counter-attack, this time from Hardik Pandya, who walked out to the crease after his time had fallen to 57 for 4. With Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma struggling to get going, despite facing 92 and 59 deliveries, respectively, the all-rounder showed the way with a 95-ball 93. Over the course of the innings, his well-timed strokes planted doubts in the opponents, as the lengths from the bowlers started changing. From well-directed yorkers, the likes of Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada shifted to bowling shorter deliveries but to no avail. Even when, in a desperate attempt, Keshav Maharaj was introduced, Pandya refused to budge from his aggressive thinking and the youngster showed the way to play in conditions that had something for both the bowlers and the batsmen.
Captain Virat Kohli took a leaf from his young ward’s leaf and stamped a fine 153 in the second Test match, that was scored at a strike-rate of well over 70. The first Test match between Australia and South Africa too stood out for Aiden Markram’s shot selections in the last innings. With over 400 to chase for an improbable win, many would have expected the hosts to collapse but Markram’s fierce approach – in which he scored 143 at a strike-rate of 65.60 – did send shivers down the Steven Smith-led side. Though the target was an uphill task, his approach only reinforced the concept of taking the attack to the opposition vehemently, which has led to batsmen faring relatively better in South Africa than the ones who choose to take the slow route in the Rainbow Nation.
In the second Test as well, David Warner was the sole batsman standing, as his teammates struggled to get going against the miserly bowling of Vernon Philander, Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. While none of his other illustrious mates could manage to get under the skins of the African bowlers, struggling to get going on a pitch that assisted the pacers, Warner stole the show with some attacking shots in his 100-ball stay at the crease. He took on the opponent bowlers and carried on his fine form in African shores with a knock of 63, that included nine boundaries. His knock once again emphasised the importance of attacking in South Africa, when the bowlers are on top of their game.
Players like Ben Stokes, Bill Edrich, Adam Gilchrist, Chris Gayle, Warner, Dwayne Smith, Jonny Bairstow and even Mitchell Johnson all have a strike rate of more than 70 and an average of above 46 in South Africa, whilst players like Allan Border, Ian Chappell, Mark Taylor, Rahul Dravid, Pujara and Martin Guptill have a strike rate that hovers below 35 in South Africa with none of these players tasting even considerable success in the land.
Hence, counter-attack seems to be the trend in the Rainbow Nation and it would not be a surprise if more and more players adopt this route for further success.