To state that South Africa have been blanked in the first three ODIs would be an understatement. They have fiddled around with little success against the trickery of the Indian wrist spinners, who have picked up 21 of the 28 South African wickets to fall in the three ODIs thus far.
"It's outstanding to see two guys just totally spinning a web around the opposition. There doesn't seem to be a way out at all. It's unbelievable. Taking eight wickets today. Outstanding. I don't have words to explain this. Credit to them. Both have been working hard on their game. Both are very brave in terms of how they bowl and the kind of fields they want as well. They are very brave tossing the ball and asking the batsman to come out and play a risky shot," Kohli said after India's win in Cape Town the other night.
Not only have Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav wrecked the backbone of South Africa's batting with frequent wickets (one in every 15 balls) but have done it at an amazing economy of 3.63 and an average of 9.05.
Barring Faf du Plessis (who played in a single game and made a fighting hundred), Hashim Amla (who never faced either Kuldeep or Chahal in this series) and Tabraiz Shamsi (who faced just a single ball in this series), all the other South African players (12 of them) have fallen at least once to either Chahal or Kuldeep in this series.
It shows the kind of woes the Proteas batsmen have had against the methodical spinners. In fact, they have had troubles against wrist spin ever since the Champions Trophy with CricProf showing that South Africa's average against wrist spin in ODIs stand at a dismal 11.13 (West Indies' record is a touch better at 21.26, but not too good either. Even in the momentum One Day Cup, South Africa's domestic 50-over competition, the leading wicket-taker this season has been a wrist spinner - Shamsi with 26 scalps in nine matches.
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) February 7, 2018
South Africa have little time to turn things around but they need to if they are to avoid being whitewashed disdainfully by a team that seems intent on setting their record straight in this part of the world. Here we try to put together a template that the Proteas might want to follow against the wrist spinners in the remaining matches of the series.
Bat around one sheet anchor
Du Plessis did a mighty good job in the first ODI in Durban but the others - except Chris Morris to an extent - failed to rally around their skipper. Du Plessis is out of the equation now but South Africa would have their 'Superman' AB de Villiers returning to the fold for pink day at Johannesburg.
De Villiers's return is a massive boost for a depleted South African batting line-up and they would hope that he dons the Joe Root-like role in the batting line-up. South Africa might also want to switch Amla to the middle order, so as to counter the spinners.
Having one stable batsmen in the middle overs is a luxury South Africa have missed in the previous two matches and the return of de Villiers might set that straight. They will now have an anchor around whom to try and battle out Chahal and Kuldeep.
Slip on the dancing shoes
"We haven't picked the wrong 'uns and when you are not picking their wrong 'uns, you are not necessarily going to be comfortable at the crease. So you are always going to be a little bit tentative," JP Duminy was quoted as saying by ESPNcricinfo after the third ODI. "Once you become comfortable with picking their deliveries, that's when you can play with confidence, with ease, with freedom. We need to find a way to get that right."
The Proteas batsmen have struggled to read the wrist spinners and have camped on the back foot hoping to pick the turn off the pitch. But this is a hollow plan given the plentiful variations that Chahal and Kuldeep have in their armoury.
Given that the Proteas aren't quite able to read the Indian wrist spinners off the hand, they might want to venture out of the crease every now and then to try and get to the pitch of the ball. This would not only minimise the turn on offer but would also force the unchallenged spinners to try something different. Of course, they run the risk of being stumped by MS Dhoni if they miss the ball, as Aiden Markram found out at Newlands, but it is better than clamping their feet to the crease.
Strike rotation over slog-sweeping
It is quite baffling that some of the quickest men on the cricket field have struggled to steal the much-needed ones and twos that would have not let the wrist spinners settle to a rhythm and dictate terms. Strike rotation has been a major concern for the Proteas in the three ODIs that have been played, but nothing proves it as much as their lousy show at Newlands.
Virat Kohli ran 100 of his 160 runs in the third ODI, with a strike rotation percentage of 62.5 while the entire South African team could only manage to take 31 runs in ones, twos and threes against Chahal and Kuldeep in 18 overs of spin.
With the batsmen stuck at one end, the Indian spinners have an easy task. South Africa might want to alter their plans a touch against the duo in the next three games.
The onus so far has been on piling pressure on the spinners by taking them on or play them out with dogged defence like Khaya Zondo and David Miller did the other day, but clearly those plans haven't come off.
They might want to resort to stealing singles and looking to take four-five runs every over from the spinners with a boundary being an added bonus. Wild shots against the duo contributed to three wickets at Newlands and four in Centurion (where Markram's and Quinton de Kock's pulls off long hops and Zondo's ill-timed slog sweep stood out).
The hosts would want to consider eschewing the slog sweeps and bank on quick running and smart field manipulation to put pressure on the spinners in the remaining matches.