From frying pan to fire: Kingsmead,Vernon Philander add to India’s woes

Philander bamboozled the Pakistani top-order with an incisive spell of swing bowling at Centurion.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Durban | Published: December 7, 2013 3:13 am

It is not as if AB de Villiers wasn’t satisfied with the 141-run hammering that his team had just dealt out to a hapless India. But it’s safe to say that he seemed far from content,despite the fact that this was South Africa’s second-biggest win in ODIs in terms of runs and that his six-man pace attack had sent the visiting batsmen literally running for cover.

While he was all praise for the likes of Dale Steyn & Co,de Villiers sounded disappointed on having missed out on unleashing the craftiest force of his pace battery,Vernon Philander. It was also probably a reminder that it could get only worse from here for India,for,if Philander hadn’t fallen in his room and hurt his shoulder on the morning of the match,the pacer would have added to the visiting team’s woes at the Bullring on Thursday. Only last week,Philander had bamboozled the Pakistani top-order with an incisive spell of genuine swing bowling at Centurion,where conditions were hardly as helpful for pacers as the Wanderers.

Having said that,the pace and bounce in Johannesburg deserved only part of the credit for the South Africans’ demolition of the Indians. There seemed an added sense of purpose in whatever de Villiers and his team did during the opening ODI,starting with the batting,and especially so when a fired-up Steyn steamed in.

It’s unlikely that it had anything to do with the lack of bonhomie between the administrators of both countries in the build-up to the tour. The motive was clear. Draw first blood and get into the psyche of the Indian batsmen,reminding them of their fallacies against high-quality bowling in foreign climes. No leeways and no loose-ends. There was a plan in place for every batsman and each one of them executed with inch-perfect precision.

The onslaught was launched by Steyn. It wasn’t the first time that the pacer had given Rohit Sharma a working over with the new white-ball. A couple of years ago,on a pitch that offered little but bounce to the fast bowlers at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium,he had left the right-hander looking equally bamboozled during an IPL game. He’d done so with a pretty straightforward strategy. Pitch the ball just short of driving length,inviting Rohit onto the front-foot and then leave him hanging,as the batsman poked his bat out at balls seaming past him at high velocity. Not even a sharp in-swinger to mix things up. Though he didn’t get Rohit out Steyn had done his job. He had set the cat amongst the pigeons. And it was Ryan McLaren who benefited the most.

To his credit,the lanky all-rounder also got his tactics absolutely right to Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh. He fed Kohli on his strength,pitching the ball up,giving it every chance to move,tempting the in-form right-hander into playing explosive drives. Kohli put him away on a couple of occasions,but the last laugh belonged to McLaren as he had him caught in the slips. He then sent Yuvraj packing with the good ol’ two-card trick. A bouncer that smashed into his ear,pushing the left-hander onto the back-foot followed by a full swinging delivery that broke through his defences.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell allowed the Indians some leeway,but then there was Morne Morkel to seal the other end up,getting Shikhar Dhawan with a menacing short-pitched delivery. This was a head-on assault that the Indians had no reply for. Jacques Kallis too chipped in with a wicket,throwing in a sharp in-swinger,when Ravindra Jadeja had begun throwing his bat.

With Philander likely to be fit for the second ODI,the difficulty quotient for the visitors will only go up a notch. De Villiers teased the visitors by hinting that leg-spinner Imran Tahir was still in his team’s plans for the ODI series. But on a Kingsmead pitch where only one spinner,namely Carl Hooper,features in the top-15 wicket-takers for ODIs,it’s likely that Tahir will sit out. India will well have to brace up for another inquisition by pace and bounce,with the additional headache of potent swing,come Sunday.

SA tour to continue as planned

The King Shaka International Airport hardly compares in size with its colossus counterpart in Johannesburg. The arrival lounge is busy but lacks the humdrum of OR Tambo is rather relaxed. Much like Durban itself.

The entire Indian team and support staff arrive together with a few South African team members in the same flight. In two days’ time they will take on each other in the second ODI of the series,with the hosts keen to seal the series outright at Kingsmead.

A visit to Durban is considered a homecoming for Indian teams. And the match given marquee status by the thousands of Indian-expats and Indian-origin South Africans in the coastal city.

But for now,the ODI and everything else apart from Madiba have taken a backseat in the country. A majority of the nation is busy making plans for prayer-meetings and getting to Johannesburg to bid a final adieu to the one man who changed their country’s history.

Speculation is rife throughout the day regarding the fate of the second ODI,and in some opinions’ the Indian tour itself. News floats in that Sunday has been named the official prayer day in the memory of Mandela. Some say,the match could be shifted to Monday or probably not happen at all. Cricket South Africa (CSA) officials are said to be meeting with the Presidency to take their views on what should be done with the ongoing series. Not long after,CSA clears the air with a press release that confirms the second ODI will go ahead as per schedule.

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