The Test series may be lost, but South Africa still have pride to play for as they head into the fourth and final Test at Delhi. South Africa came into the Tests having not lost an away series in nearly a decade. To add to their confidence, they were the dominant side in both the ODIs and the T20s. But, the Tests have proved to be a totally different kettle of fish. India have gone in for spinning pitches, and their bowlers have proved dominance over the South African batsmen. This has been the key factor which has reflected in the final result.
Indian bowlers’ authority in the series has proved that even the best of away batsmen can struggle when the pitches play spin tricks. What has hurt South Africa most in the series is the lack of runs from three of their most experienced and high-quality batsmen – Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis. When the Tests began, it was clear that the majority of the scoring had to be done by the trio if South Africa had to compete under tough conditions. But, they have failed as a result of which South Africa have struggled.
Amla, the South African Test captain, has done brilliantly in the past in India. But, he has been out of form ever since he arrived in India, and that has only made matters worse for the visitors. South Africa depend on Amla to anchor the innings, and they have really missed the batsman of old, who can bat on and on, and frustrate the opponents. With the series being lost, the pressure on him will have lessened to an extent. Amla did show glimpses of form at Nagpur. He would like to finish the series on a high, although the conditions won’t make it easy.
De Villiers has been the best batsmen on show in the series for South Africa, but the struggles of his teammates seem to have rubbed off on him as well. At Nagpur, de Villiers fell in single-figure scores in both innings. He was beaten by spin once each by Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. It was a moral victory for the Indian bowlers as de Villiers has taken them to the cleaners in the recent past. Having seen de Villiers over the years, one can be sure that he won’t go down without a fight. The Indians thus need to guard against complacency.
From de Villiers, we more on to du Plessis. He had an excellent one-day series, scoring consistently, but in the five-day game, his skills against spin bowling have definitely been exposed. Du Plessis has looked nowhere near the match-winner he has been for the Proteas in recent years. Like Amla though, he also spent some time out in the middle at Nagpur, which should give him some degree as confidence when he goes into bat at Delhi. The task will not be easy for the experienced South African trio. But, with the rest of the batsmen not having much knowledge of Indian conditions, it will be up to those three to take the fight into the Indian camp.
--By A Cricket Analyst