SOUTH AFRICA’S TOUR OF INDIA, 2019
Ashwin picked a four-fer on Day 3, including bowling the ball of the day to dismiss de Kock. © AFP
Quinton de Kock stood his ground in disbelief, while the Indian players huddled with Ravichandran Ashwin for breaking the most important partnership of the morning. De Kock deserved a bit of sympathy for not realising in entirety what arguably the best ball of the day – armed with deceptive drift and turn – had done to him.
Batting against the current Indian bowlers in their conditions is like trying to get out of an unending maze full of doors. You open one thinking you’re at the end of the hallway, but no, right there in front of you is another door. Ask De Kock. He beat myriad traps set for him during his 48-ball stay, only for a new one to crop up and leave him to collect his jaws off the floor.
De Kock walked out to bat at a time when India were buzzing. Every Indian fielder that got his hands on the ball wanted to give it a good shine and Kohli was open-minded when it came to setting attacking fields and laying out set ups.
Against Ishant Sharma’s over-the-wicket angle to the left-hander, the cover region was left empty while the slip cordon was heavily populated, inviting de Kock to take the chance with driving away from his body. Against Ashwin, he had four fielders close in on him, as the spinner tested his patience with balls that would drift in and turn away.
De Kock on his part had done well to sidestep many of these landmines, before eventually stepping on one when Ashwin pulled the length slightly shorter and foxed him with the dip.
From the evidence of the series so far, you could say India’s bowling plans have worked out like a charm. Their two real windows of opportunity in Pune have been the first and the last hour of a day’s play, and essentially until the SG ball begins to go soft – which has been around the 45th over. In each of these phase, India have found ways to breakthrough.
South Africa would probably want to put their abysmal start with the bat on Day 2 down to the mental fatigue that India put them through on their way to a 600-plus total. But it was also India’s bowlers showing peak efficiency in retaining their foot on the visitors’ throat after having already choked them for sessions together.
Mohammed Shami’s ball to dismiss Temba Bavuma late on Day 2 and the one to snuff out night watchman Anrich Nortje early on Day 3 were two more gems that went a long way in setting up India’s grip on the game. Both snorters, kicked off from a familiar good length that South Africa too have repeatedly hit, but without the sort of zip and extra bounce that sent Bavuma and Nortje packing.
Senuran Muthusamy’s dismissal in the post-lunch session on Day 3 meant South Africa were seven down while still being 462 runs in the red. But from hereon, India had to use a much softened ball to try and stop the most battle-hardened batsman in the South African ranks.
Faf du Plessis has been here and blocked thaton Indian shores before. Besides being scarring, the experience of 2015 would’ve also added something to du Plessis’s muscle memory of how (not) to play in India.
The Day 3 pitch didn’t carry demons for him to unfurl a blockathon from archives, as he instead went with a block-or-whack approach. Ravindra Jadeja was particularly at the wrong end of the latter, as his attempt to dart full deliveries were met with big swings. Kohli threw open a challenge to his opposite number with two catchers at short extra cover, but du Plessis still managed to steer clear. He took advantage of Kohli’s attacking fields that were set thanks to the massive total in tow, and even chose to sweep Ashwin from outside the off stump when there was an opportunity.
He went past another half-century and rebuilt in the company of Vernon Philander, and smothered India’s spinners comfortably. Until, of course, Ashwin produced the next bit of genius. He preyed on the comfort zone that du Plessis had slipped into as India turned in all possible directions – including Rohit Sharma’s – in search of a breakthrough. The offie bowled a straighter one amidst a flurry of balls turning sharply into the right hander and added to the ever-growing tally of c Rahane b Ashwin.
Philander and Keshav Maharaj may have given South Africa a reason to chin up, but Indian bowlers’ ability to pull off individual moments of brilliance showed why batting for the second time, despite all the new-found optimism, is still going to be an uphill task for the visitors.