Strike rate: 58.73
Wickets lost: 13
That’s how the South African batsmen have fared against the wrist spin of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in the two ODIs of the ongoing series against India so far. And it was captain Faf du Plessis who had accounted for around 31.4 percent of those runs in the first ODI itself. Moreover, if we take out du Plessis’ contribution, the overall strike rate comes down to a mere 53.89. So that sums up how poor the rest of the South African batsmen have been against wrist spin, that too, in their home conditions.
The South African skipper's fabulous knock of 120 in the first ODI at Durban helped his team post a fighting total of 269 runs on the board, and his absence in the second ODI resulted in a dismal collapse for 118 runs with the Indian wrist spinner duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal sharing eight wickets for just 42 runs between them.
Now, with du Plessis ruled out of the whole series and AB de Villiers not expected to come back into the side until the fourth ODI, things look pretty ominous for the hosts considering the way they have struggled against the spinners. Moreover, it has also revealed the chink in their batting armour in the absence of their two middle-order mainstays in du Plessis and De Villiers.
The only batsman other than the duo capable of handling India’s spin threat is Hashim Amla. However, he hasn’t been able to last more than the first 10 overs of the innings in both the ODIs so far. The absence of three of South Africa's most experienced batsmen capable of playing spin well during the middle overs is hurting the team badly, bringing forward the faulty technique and poor temperament of the rest of the batsmen against spin.
Aiden Markram, South Africa’s newest batting sensation, is also rated highly as a player of spin in the country. However, the additional load of captaincy, in the absence of du Plessis, going into just the fourth ODI of his career is bound to make him a bit tentative and nervous as well.
Markram was pretty unlucky in the way he got dismissed on Sunday at Centurion. He picked the fielder at deep square leg to perfection as his eyes lit up when he saw Kuldeep bowl a pretty short delivery. If it wouldn’t have been such a good and well-judged catch by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Markram might well have got a life there as the ball was travelling at quite some speed.
However, that summed up the desperation of the batsmen to jump on to those rare bad deliveries on offer from either of the Indian spinners as they didn’t want the duo to settle down to a rhythm. The dismissal off Quinton de Kock off another short delivery from Chahal was once again an example of that desperation. This desperation to make up for the lack of technique and temperament with intent and counter-attacking strategies which obviously didn’t work in the end.
"I believe there are quality batsmen in our middle order and it’s just about taking responsibility. Obviously we’ve had to adjust our gameplans just a touch going into this game, but it wasn’t addressing any sort of problem, I don't think" Markram said on the eve of his first ODI as South Africa’s captain.
Although he said that it doesn’t look like they need to address any problem against the wrist spinners, the performance of the middle order especially that of JP Duminy and David Miller, has suggested otherwise.
Both batsmen haven’t been able to pick either of the spinners and have looked all at sea against them. It was Kuldeep who outfoxed JP Duminy with a googly in the first ODI, thus cleaning him up as the southpaw tried to play a cut off the back foot. And it was Chahal in the second ODI who trapped him lbw with a slight variation in pace and a hint of leg spin even though he seemed like picking the spinners initially.
David Miller, on the other hand, looked the most uncomfortable against the duo. He was beaten by variation of pace in the first ODI, handing an easy catch to Virat Kohli at short cover. And he followed that up by edging one to Ajinkya Rahane in the slips in the second ODI. On both occasions, it was Kuldeep who dismissed him and on both those occasions, he invited him for the drive outside off-stump. The change of pace and the line at which both the deliveries were bowled were exceptional, but a batsman at this level is not expected to repeat the same mistake twice.
The only batsman who looked comfortable against the spinners on Sunday was the debutant Khaya Zondo. He showed signs of promise using his feet well and also read the spinners properly. However, it was the mindset to counterattack the wrist spinners in order to unsettle them that led to his downfall too, just like de Kock and Markram. An attempted slog sweep went straight up in the air only to be caught by Hardik Pandya inside the 30-yard circle. That period required rebuilding and South Africa couldn’t afford any slip-ups. But, Zondo’s wicket, after a partnership of 48 runs with Duminy, opened the flood gates again.
The South African batsmen can’t just go on ignoring their faulty technique - the way they hang back against the spinners and get beaten by pace more often than not — anymore if they want to turn their fortunes around in the series. They need to use their feet against the spinners more and should try to attack them less as the duo of Kuldeep and Chahal are at their wicket-taking best when attacked.
Du Plessis had shown his teammates the exact template to handle the Indian spinners in the first ODI and the rest of the batsmen need to learn from that. He just worked out the duo for singles and twos taking just 38 runs off 52 deliveries from the spinners and scored his rest 82 runs off just 60 deliveries bowled by the pacers. So that is exactly how the South African batsmen need to deal with the spinners going forward.
But before that, they need to get their technique and temperament right against the spinners. If they can do that, they have a good chance of getting back into the series considering their strength in fast bowling and the prowess of the batsmen against the fast bowlers.