TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SA’s marathon tour of India starts in earnest a week from today with the first of three Twenty20s. So, how have they fared in the shortest format in that country? Nobody knows.
Ten years after they played the first of their 80 T20s, SA have yet to experience one in India. Not that they haven’t taken on the boys in blue in the format.
In fact, SA have faced India in eight T20s – more than they have played against six of the dozen countries they have clashed with in the 20-over game. But those eight matches have taken place in SA, England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates.
So a smidgen of history will be upon us next Friday when the Indian and SA teams line up on the outfield of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association ground in Dharamsala – the home in exile of no less than the Dalai Lama – with the Himalayas brooding in the background.
However, that is only true at senior international level. As members of Indian Premier League (IPL) sides and lesser representative teams, South Africans are thoroughly acquainted with playing T20 cricket in India.
AB de Villiers, for instance, has turned out in T20s at 16 different Indian grounds and has played 36 of them in Bangalore alone. Of SA’s squad of 15 named for the series, only Eddie Leie and Kagiso Rabada do not have any T20 experience in India at some level.
But how much will all that be worth in Dharamsala next week with national pride at stake and the most passionate crowd in the game screaming for the home side? And that in a form of the game in which minor mistakes are often magnified into matters of matchwinning – or losing – significance.
“It’s a very volatile crowd who are very aggressive in their support of India,” Ray Jennings said. “No-one in those stands is going to be shouting for SA. It’s not like here, where almost always some people will support the opposition.”
Jennings played 307 first-class and List A games between February 1974 and January 1993 – all of them in SA and Zimbabwe. The closest he got to taking the field in India was in a couple of six-a-side and 30-over outings in Malaysia in 1992. But, as a coach, he has become a denizen of the IPL’s dugouts.
“India are of course very experienced with regard to the (small) size of their fields and the nature of their pitches,” he said. “So they will have a bigger home ground advantage than is usually the case, and not just in the T20 series.
“They will prepare pitches to heighten their skills and neutralise ours. For instance, our fast bowlers: two or three overs and the swing is gone.
“The variations in the conditions will also be important. Bangalore tends to be slow but one or two other places have bounce. It’s not like in SA where it’s pretty much the same wherever you play.”
After 72 days in India in which they will also play five one-day internationals and four tests, SA will know all that. And much more.