TELFORD VICE, Bangalore
WHOEVER said cricket is a funny game should be taken out and shot. What, for instance, is the joke in the fate that has befallen SA in India?
Having been beaten on Mohali’s Pro-Vita pitch in the first test, the visitors would have given thanks for the rain that greeted their arrival in Bangalore.
“As a batsman all you can do is play what you see, instead of playing what you imagine,” Hashim Amla said on Friday in explaining, albeit obliquely, what had gone wrong for SA last week.
But Bangalore’s bucketing rain and palpable humidity this week suggested there would be something in the surface for the seamers and swing bowlers when the second test starts on Saturday.
Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, SA’s most accomplished exponents of swing and seam, will thus mark out their run-ups with relish … Not.
Steyn is watching proceedings from the dressingroom and hoping like hell that the groin strain he sustained in Mohali heals in time for him to play in the third test in Nagpur. He has a dozen days to sort himself out.
But Steyn’s lot is better than that of Philander, who was put on a plane back to sunny SA after – of all things – standing on Dean Elgar’s foot during one of those damn fool football games before played before Thursday’s training session.
Torn ankle ligaments. See you in eight weeks. Six, if you’re lucky.
Makes you want to spit, doesn’t it?
“Losing Dale, the best bowler in the world, and Vernon, arguably the best allrounder in the world, changes the dynamics of our team,” Amla said.
“But the guys who are going to be replacing them are quality cricketers. A series is generally won with 15 players; not just 11.”
Now that Morne Morkel is over the quadriceps injury that kept him out of the first test, he should crack the nod. Bounce, Morkel’s prime asset, often challenges batsmen from the sub-continent.
Steyn’s absence, meanwhile, should mean a second cap for Kagiso Rabada – whose pace will bother the home side.
Philander’s probable replacement was bowling in the nets at the M Chinnaswamy stadium yesterday having been summoned from SA within two hours of Thursday’s catastrophe. Namaste, Kyle Abbott.
“He’ll be ready,” Amla said. “Kyle is a wonderful professional and when he puts his boots on he’s ready, even if he got off the plane 10 minutes before he bowled the first ball.”
More happily, SA will welcome back JP Duminy from the lacerated hand that took him out of the equation in Mohali.
“He bats in a crucial position down at 5, 6 and 7,” Amla said. “In all forms of cricket, that’s the business end of the game.
“He brings a lot of know-how and experience to the middle order and his off-spin has been vital for us.”
And then there’s AB – as in De Villiers, who will on Saturday become the seventh South African and the 63rd player overall to win 100 test caps.
One of those who has been there, done that used his column in The Hindu yesterday to pay tribute to the newly minted centurion.
“(When De Villiers arrived on the scene) we didn’t know what he was – a wicketkeeper, an opening batsman, a middle order player,” Jacques Kallis wrote.
“All we knew for certain was that he had a touch of genius and was destined to have a long international career.”
Amla was asked whether the hype over De Villiers’ looming milestone had distracted a team preparing for their toughest challenge in recent years. On the contrary …
“It’s been great to have ‘Abbas’ playing his 100th game and for us to have something to celebrate.”
After SA’s tribulations this week, something is better than nothing.