It has been two decades since South Africa have made a comeback to international cricket. A lot has changed in world cricket and South African cricket over these 20-odd years. However, one facet of South African cricket has remained the same – their woes against spin. This massive incapability came to haunt them again in the second ODI against Pakistan at Dubai on Friday. Having won the first game after coming from behind, they were a confident lot. But, it just needed one game for the Pakistan spinners to show them the mirror.
Having kept Pakistan down to a very gettable score, South Africa would have been confident of chasing down the same with ease. However, it was far from the case. Misbah-Ul-Haq had mentioned earlier that spin would play a key role in the match, and it did. However, he would only have hoped that his spinners did not disappoint him. Mind you, the pacers also did their job. Mohammad Irfan was brilliant once again, troubling most South African batsmen with his pace and Sohail Tanvir was a steady companion. Without doubt though it were the spinners who turned the game around.
Even if a team is chasing a small score, it helps if they get off to a good start, as it settles the nerves in the dressing room. On the contrary, if they lose wickets early, it gives the opponents confidence and, more importantly, hope of making a match out of it. Pakistan knew that Colin Ingram is going through the worst patch of his international career, and Tanvir ensured that he was nipped out early. While wickets did not fell for the next few overs, what Irfan and Tanvir did very well was to ensure they stifled Graeme Smith and JP Duminy.
With the pacers not giving anything away, Smith and Duminy were forced to look for some runs against the spinners. They did not need many, but it was also a situation where they couldn’t play out many dot balls since the pressure would build up and Pakistan’s spinners would get on top. In spite of their experience though South Africa’s batsmen did not have the technique to deal with the conditions. With the ball gripping on the surface the Pakistan spinners became doubly dangerous, and the likes of Smith, Duminy , de Villiers and du Plessis perished one after the other. After that, victory was a mere formality for Pakistan.
The series between Pakistan and South Africa is proving to be the antithesis when compared to the one between India and Australia. While in the latter series, scores of 350 are being chased down with ease, in Dubai, teams are struggling to take down 200. True, the conditions are much different, and that is making run-scoring difficult, but the rules under which both the series’ are being played is the same. This demonstrates that the playing surface does make a difference. The question however is – which series is generating more excitement?
--By A Cricket Analyst