Updated: November 27, 2015 12:24:07 am
Nerves already shot, unplayable deliveries bursting through a dust-swirl triggering more panic, their batting techniques unequipped to handle this Indian spice, South Africans were like drugged men. A frenetic day where 20 wickets fell should exhilarate but it had a funereal air about it.
A day where five-fors requires tagging with an explanatory asterisk leaves you with a sense of emptiness. One turner in a series can often make for a thrilling watching experience, as watching the usually mollycoddled batsmen figuring out a way of survival can be fun. But this powdery strip, where the top crust had blown away alarmingly early, making the Day 2 pitch feel like Day 7, was something else. Balls spun across the breadth of the pitch, some stayed low, some came off slowly, some rushed in, some jumped, and some intended off-breaks went straight. Panicked batting minds did the rest: dread of what’s to come next isn’t something to be sneezed at. They couldn’t stretch fully forward, for they could be end up unnecessarily poking at massively-spinning deliveries, and they couldn’t push right back as the variable bounce would have trapped them lbw. When so many possibilities of dismissals stare at you every delivery, it seems churlish, and patronising, to carp about batsmen’s defensive techniques.
In tilting the balance, the curators have overkilled it, like sending a horde of elephants to stub out a limping rat in a closed space. It was a pitch that India probably wouldn’t have prepared for most other top teams that have better spinners than South Africa. It was also a pitch that seemed a reaction to South Africa’s triumph in the one-dayers on those surfaces. The South African spinners let India run away to a decent total in the first innings, and again threatened to repeat the same in the second, and with Hashim Amla stubbornly refusing to bring Imran Tahir into play, the lead kept getting bigger.
AB…Z of Day 2
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Two wickets of two good batsmen captured the story of the day. Someone as good as AB de Villiers was made to look like a bumbling character in a bad movie. It landed short of length around off and de Villiers, he of the quickest feet in business, sidled across in a flash to get into a good position but was outdone by the track. The ball almost stuck like gunk on the sandpit and peeled off it ever so slowly. He probably would have still adjusted to it but then came the vicious turn. The hands tried its best to cover for the break but the combination of slow pace and spin was too much, even for AB. There was no surprise when he patted it back to Jadeja.
And there was the dismissal of Cheteshwar Pujara. When it left the hand of JP Duminy from round the stumps and landed on a length around leg and middle, it seemed Pujara had it covered. He pushed forward a touch, soft hands gripped the bat that was held straight. The ball, though, emerged from the pothole and chose to go straight on around that bat to peg back the off stump.
The rest of the batsmen had no chance, especially when Ashwin is top of his art, and especially when he started the way he did on Thursday. Four lovely off-breaks drifted in from round the stump and broke away sharply, right across Dean Elgar. The fifth was an arm-ball, the index finger slid down on the seam, but the shortness of length of the in-coming ball had Elgar shaping for a pressure-relieving cut. He only managed to get an inside-edge on to stumps.
In the next over, Ashwin had Hashim Amla going for a firm sweep but he was through his shot too early, the slow pace off the pitch undoing him. The ball winked in, bounded off the back of the bat, popped up off the ‘keeper’s shoulder and lobbed up to Ajinkya Rahane at first slip. Few balls later, de Villiers was swallowed by the track, and South Africa were deep-fried couple of overs later when Faf du Plessis fell.
Poor Faf. Increasingly, he reminds one of Robin Smith, a fearless player of pace who used to look petrified of spin, and who has had his own horror run in India. Even the dismissal brought back memories of Smith. It was a tossed up delivery and it seemed a last-instant reaction to go for a big hit. The bat came down outside the line, covering for the turn, only there wasn’t any. It whistled through straight to fall on the stumps.
A few more blink-and-miss wickets later, South Africa were done, yielding a 136-run lead, before their bowlers bowled a lot of tripe — short, wide, on the legs, well outside off — to allow India to move on without much fuss in the second innings. A state of affairs, amplified further by Amla’s stubborn resistance to bring Tahir on. He walked around deep midwicket, looked grim at mid-on, and ambled here and there on the field before finally getting the opportunity to mark his run-up near the tea break. He took three in three overs and took two more later to wrap up India but Amla wasn’t done with him yet.
Another remorseless sacrifice of Tahir as a nightwatchman was made as South Africa continued to stumble around sheepishly, looking as out of place as a headbanger at a Carnatic concert.
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