Dane Piedt had last played a Test match fourteen months back. Incidentally, that was his debut against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. Finishing with figures of 8 for 152, the 24-year-old looked confident of taking the big leap in international cricket. However, a shoulder injury he suffered while playing for the Cape Cobras at a Champions League T20 game proved to be a speed-breaker.
The following eight months, in which, he underwent a rigorous rehabilitation programme, was by his own admission the toughest phase in his life. In the interim, South Africa went about winning series at home and abroad, and in the process reaffirmed their supremacy as the top Test-playing nation. Meanwhile, Piedt lost his place in the Test squad and the shoulder injury looked like ending a promising career.
“The return (from injury) was a tough for me, I began to doubt my abilities after my physio had told me that it would be difficult for me to make it back as a cricketer,” he says.
It looked like Piedt’s Test career could be restricted to just one game.
Making intermittent appearances in the domestic T20 competitions did little to boost his confidence. His turning point, however, came in August this year, when he was selected for the South Africa A squad to tour India. Piedt finally hit his straps in the picturesque Krishnagiri Stadium in Wayanad, Kerala. In the two unofficial Tests at the venue, he ended with 11 wickets.
“The tour to India in August this year helped me get my rhythm and restored my confidence. The wickets there suited my style,” he says. His performances in the two unofficial Tests helped him return to the Test squad for the India tour.
Having his name in the Test squad, however, did not guarantee him a place in the Playing XI. Piedt had to wait. The tall blond off spinner Simon Harmer was chosen ahead of him for the three Tests, and he was relegated to the sidelines. He didn’t mind though. The very fact that he was in the Test squad, and travelling with the team was a morale booster for him. He knew his time would come. That moment finally came today, when he was included in the final XI in place of Harmer.
Most observers found the move baffling. Firstly because, Harmer was their in-form bowler this series, and secondly the replacement hardly had any international exposure.
But the South African think-tank had other ideas. With the series already lost, they probably thought that this was an opportune time to blood the off spinner.
Playing in only his second Test, the 25-year-old from Cape Town did his reputation no harm. On a two-paced Kotla pitch, captain Amla showed faith in his young offie by introducing him as early as the 11th over. Piedt started steadily and settled into a good rhythm. He did not experiment, but stuck to the basics by bowling tight testing lines. In his third over, he bowled a wide delivery and drew opener Murali Vijay forward. The ball, however, held its line and didn’t turn enough. Vijay now played down the wrong line and ended up getting the outside edge to give an easy catch to first slip. Little more than an hour into play on Day One here at the Feroz Shah Kotla, the visitors had drawn first blood by removing India’s batting mainstay for just 12.
In the third over after lunch, he struck again. He removed Shikhar Dhawan. Bowling from around the wicket, Dhawan played for the turn, but Piedt ripped an armer, which trapped the hesitant southpaw right in front of the crease. Piedt’s relentless bowling in the afternoon session was the highlight of the day. He ended up with two more wickets for his lion-hearted display. The first, being the wicket of India captain Virat Kohli, who was dismissed under bizarre circumstances, and the second was when he induced Rohit Sharma to play a false stroke, in which he ended up slogging Piedt to Tahir at deep mid-wicket.
He could easily have got his maiden five-wicket haul, if his captain Hashim Amla, stationed at first slip, had not grassed Rahane for 78. Piedt ended the day with figures of 4/101 in 34 overs. A commendable performance given that he bowled 29 of those overs in two spells.
“It’s a dream come true for me to get these four wickets today,” was how he summed up. After he spend months in the wilderness, partly due to injury, and partly due to self-doubt, Piedt’s wait is now well and truly over. “My time is now,” he adds.
Abbot makes an impact
Like Dane Piedt, fast bowler Kylie Abbot too has spent much time waiting in the wings. Like Piedt, he too had a dream start to his Test career, rattling Pakistan with his pace and seam movement, and in the process finishing with figures of 7/29 more than two years back. That was not enough to make him a regular in the famed Proteas line-up that boasts of the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. This meant that in the next 30 months after his memorable debut against Pakistan, Abbot would feature in just 3 more Tests. Although he featured in the T20s and ODIs in the earlier leg of this tour, he was ignored for the first three Tests.
His moment finally came in Kotla. Making optimum use of the freshness in the wicket, Abbot bowled with pace, kept honing in around the off stump and surprised the Indians with late seam movement. He bowled a beauty to get a nick from Murali Vijay. Sadly for him Vijay and India got a reprieve as it turned out to be a no-ball. Post lunch, he along with Piedt got two crucial breakthroughs to peg back the hosts.
Abbot plotted Pujara and Jadeja’s dismissals through sharp deliveries that deviated off the seam. The wicket of Pujara was a beauty. The fullish ball jagged back in late, which Pujara looked to defend. The ball sneaked through off the inside edge to uproot Pujara’s stumps. He came back for his final spell to get rid of Ravindra Jadeja, again through a sharp delivery, which moved late to tilt the proceedings in favour of the visitors. On the opening day, two relatively unknown and largely different bowlers, one an off spinner, and other a fast bowler, shared the spoils for South Africa.