India vs South Africa: By not playing their best bowlers, Proteas didn't stick to strengths, spurned shot at drawing Vizag Test

With Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje available for selection, South Africa would have been served better by picking one of the two pacers (probably the former, for his experience) who could have exploited the inconsistent bounce and pace of the Vizag pitch to restrict India.

Subash Jayaraman, Oct 07, 2019 10:32:20 IST

It was the third Test of India’s disastrous tour of Australia in 2011-12. After shellacked by an innings and 68 runs in Sydney and already staring down at 0-2 in the four-match series, India curiously opted for the Karnataka seamer Vinay Kumar at the WACA in Perth, replacing the off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin who had returns of 4/141 at Melbourne and 0/157 in Sydney. Even considering Ashwin was on his first tour to Australia, he was easily amongst the best four bowlers India had in their squad, and yet he was benched at Perth. Vinay Kumar was blasted around the park going at nearly run-a-ball in his 13 overs of medium paced ineffectiveness as Australia routed India in three days. That was the first and only Test of Vinay Kumar’s career.

Perhaps India were desperate to make a dent in the series and given the historic nature of pacers performing well at the WACA, they chose Vinay over Ashwin, or they were less than impressed with Ashwin’s return at Sydney. But then, Australia only lost four wickets in Sydney and piled on 659 runs and so, there was plenty of blame to go around, as India lost by an innings.

Decisions taken by teams that are in desperation mode violate some of the fundamental axioms of Test cricket that it’s a sport for specialists and teams that field their best batsmen and bowlers without succumbing to extraneous factors such as weather, conditions, etc., tend to do well. Desperate decisions more often than not end with disastrous results.


After being walloped by India 3-0 in 2015, and having lost some of their legendary players, South Africa were probably under pressure to reverse the trend but made the cardinal mistake of not selecting their best bowlers for the opening Test of the 2019 series in Visakhapatnam. They were swayed by their reading of the pitch conditions and chose to play just two seamers (Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada) but play three spinners (Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt and debutant Senuran Muthusamy), while India chose to play their squad’s four best bowlers in a 2-2 combo of pacers and spinners.

India vs South Africa: By not playing their best bowlers, Proteas didnt stick to strengths, spurned shot at drawing Vizag Test

Faf du Plessis (c) of South Africa with teammates during day 4 of the first test against India. Sportzpics

Historically, pace has been South Africa’s weapon of choice, at home and abroad. Their successes in the subcontinent have been predicated on the excellence of their fast bowlers and hasn’t relied on their tweakers to deliver them victories. While Maharaj, who had proven himself to be capable of performing in the holding role at home, showed progress by grossing 16 wickets in the two Test series in Sri Lanka in 2018, and hence captured the mantle of lead spinner, South Africa through muddled thinking went away from their strengths facing India this week.

If one were to argue that eight of the eleven Indian wickets to fall in the Test were to spinners and thus, South Africa’s decision to play three frontline spinners is vindicated, it would be a simplistic reading of the final figures from a scorecard. It was obvious through the course of the Test match that the only times South Africa could exert control on Indian batsmen who declared twice in the Test was when they faced the wiles of Philander and the pace of Rabada.

With Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje available for selection, Proteas would have been served better by picking one of the two pacers (probably the former, for his experience) who could have exploited the inconsistent bounce and pace of the Vizag pitch to restrict India.

The table below shows a summary of the performance of the South African spinners and the pacers in the first Test. It should be noted that Rohit Sharma and the other Indian batsmen were able to score at nearly six runs per over against the South African spinners which allowed India to establish substantial lead on the fourth afternoon and declare and set the game up. It is a further indictment of the Proteas’ mistake of not sticking to their strength that even amidst India’s declaration, the South African pacers went at less than three runs per over.

Bowling Type 1st innings 2nd innings
Spin 90-8-363-6 42-3-251-2
Pace 46-11-134-1 25-8-62-2

The trio of tweakers (and the occasional use of Dean Elgar), while could be happy, that they captured eight Indian wickets, were reminded that they were not in the same class as India’s R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who shared fourteen wickets between themselves while going at three runs an over. The South African slow bowlers had a match economy rate of 4.65 runs per over which allowed essentially the Indian batsmen to accumulate at a very good pace, making up for lost time due to rain on the first day, and allow enough time for their bowlers to chisel out 20 wickets on a turgid pitch that misbehaved a little on days four and five.

If South Africa had another pacer in their attack to complement Rabada and Philander, providing options to their skipper to attack and defend with pace from one or both ends and utilize his less-experienced and outclassed spinners to be run-stoppers and occasional wicket takers. At the very least, this would have allowed South Africa to have exerted some semblance of control of India’s scoring rates and thereby, the possibility of escaping with a draw viable.

The performance of South Africa with the bat exceeded expectations as they almost drew parity at the end of the first innings but the toothless bowling attack stacked with ineffective spinners provided India a second opportunity to win the match and the No. 1 team in the world was not going to let an opportunity like that go.

Vinay Kumar’s bio says “right arm medium” and the pace and bounce of the WACA pitch probably led MS Dhoni and the Indian management astray in 2012. He was led like a lamb to slaughter as Aussie opener David Warner ravaged the Indian attack. South Africa’s selection errors were laid to waste by Rohit Sharma, opening for the first time in Tests. Faf du Plessis and the new team management would do well to remember what their strengths are and could leave the Indian shores without regret even if they were to lose the series that they played their best players and were beaten by a better team.

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Updated Date: Oct 07, 2019 10:32:20 IST

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 5046 120
2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 England 4366 104
4 South Africa 3177 102
5 Australia 3672 102
6 Sri Lanka 3795 95
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 5019 98
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 8366 270
2 Australia 6986 269
3 England 5568 265
4 South Africa 4720 262
5 India 9349 260
6 New Zealand 6056 252