TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
JP Duminy has been ruled out of SA’s last two one-day internationals in India with a hand injury he sustained while fielding off his bowling in the third match of the series in Rajkot on Sunday.
He will be replaced in the squad by Dean Elgar, but Duminy’s withdrawal could mean a debut for Khaya Zondo in Chennai on Thursday.
Duminy, who needs two to three weeks to recover, will remain with the squad in an attempt to regain his fitness in time to play in the first test – which starts on November 5.
That will take South Africans’ focus off wondering why India have included Ishant Sharma in their squad for the first two tests.
For a start, the shaggy, lanky fast bowler has been suspended for the first match because of the hotheaded verbal immaturity he showed during the third test against Sri Lanka in Colombo in August. He also has an indifferent record against SA.
Sharma has bowled to SA’s batsmen in eight tests, claiming 20 wickets at 47.95 – his worst average out of all eight teams he has played against.
Three of those games have been in India but Sharma’s return of eight wickets at 38.62 says he has not been a threat to SA even in his own backyard.
Not that Sharma seems a scary prospect regardless of the opposition and the conditions: he has needed 65 tests to reach 200 wickets and has taken them at 36.51; 62 at 33.46 at home and 138 at 37.87 away.
He is India’s second-highest wicket-taker among current bowlers but the man ahead of him, Harbhajan Singh, has played 38 more tests and taken 217 more wickets. Ravichandran Ashwin is in third place with 145 wickets even though he has played 37 fewer tests than Sharma.
Fine record or not, Harbhajan was left out in favour of left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja when the squad was named on Monday.
Ashwin, meanwhile, was ruled out for the last two one-day internationals with the side strain that has limited his involvement in the rubber to bowling 4.4 overs in the first match.
Why did Sharma crack the nod? Because he is a significantly more effective fast bowler now than he was when SA last tangled with him. That was in December 2013, when he took five wickets at 62.60 in two tests in SA.
But in his next series, two months later in New Zealand, he snapped up three times as many at 25.13. He followed that with a haul of 14 at 27.21 in three tests in England.
Sharma went off the boil again in Australia in December last year, contributing just nine wickets to the cause at 48.22 in three games.
However, his 13 victims at 23.23 in Sri Lanka in August signalled a return to form. So, that’s why Sharma has been picked.
It says plenty about Indian cricket that 61.60% of the wickets claimed by their alltime top 10 bowlers have fallen to spinners and that Sharma has played 21 more tests away than he has at home.
But the fact is in a country that struggles to find quality fast bowlers as much as SA have to scour the cupboard for decent spinners – this generation is an aberration, what with Imran Tahir, Dane Piedt, Simon Harmer, Aaron Phangiso and Eddie Leie all up there – Sharma is as good as it gets.
Test (for first two matches): Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul, Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma.
ODI (for last two matches): MS Dhoni (captain), Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Rohit Sharma, S Aravind, Gurkeerat Singh, Amit Mishra, Harbhajan Singh.