SA in a spin again, but we’ll always have AB

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Bangalore

A dozen or more pariah kites swooped and swerved over the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Saturday after Virat Kohli won the toss and declined to bat, and before Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl walked out to do just that.

Perhaps someone had whispered to the not so little birdies in the sky that there would be easy pickings down below.

And so it proved as SA succumbed for 214 after tea. By stumps, India were 133 runs away from the lead with all 10 wickets standing.

“It’s a good pitch,” Russell Domingo said. “We were very happy to bat (first) – we just didn’t play well enough.

“When you play against a quality attack like India’s you’ve got to limit the freebies. There were far too many soft dismissals.”

As in the first test in Mohali, where India won inside three days, SA failed to deal with the home side’s spinners. Of the 30 wickets the visitors have lost in the series, only three have been claimed by seamers. And, alarmingly, Saturday’s total was SA’s highest in three innings.

Ravichandran Ashwin was again SA’s nemesis, and he and Ravindra Jadeja shared eight scalps.

But, unlike in Mohali, where tentativeness took hold of SA’s batsmen and never let go, eagerness to show the spinners who’s boss got the better of them. We know who’s boss so far in this series, and it’s not SA’s batsmen.

There was improvement in that their footwork was more purposeful. Now they need to sort out their stroke selection.

“If you just sit back in your crease and get bowled out, guys will say you didn’t play positively enough,” Domingo said. “If you look to score they’ll say you are playing too loosely. It’a fine line.”

Not that the umpires gave SA a fair shake. Richard Kettleborough decided Faf du Plessis had been caught by Cheteshwar Pujara at short leg off Ashwin, but asked his man upstairs, Chettihody Shamshuddin, to have a look.

Shamshuddin, who is officiating in his first test, did not appear to see that before Pujara claimed the catch he was more or less leaning on a ball that looked firmly grounded.

Shamshuddin also sent AB de Villiers packing, this time on the evidence of what was – in the press box, at least – fuzzy, pixelated video that wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha had smuggled a glove under the dipping ball. And that was without a decision having been reached on the field.

But South Africans will always have AB. So will Bangaloreans.

Freshly returned to the No. 1 batting ranking for his 100th test, De Villiers walked to the middle of his second home ground to roundhouse roars and a handshake from Virat Kohli, who shares a dugout with the South African in the colours of Royal Challengers Bangalore.

For three hours the balance of the contest looked like shifting, and that was despite three wickets falling at the other end.

De Villiers danced. He darted. He dared. He dazzled. He drilled Ashwin for six. He played the matador to India’s bulls, who were all over the China shop against him.

And when he was given out, on the stroke of tea, his parents were subjected to a press conference.

“I never played cricket in my life,” AB senior said, adding as he shaped his hands into an oval, “Where I come from, there was only one ball. Do you know this ball?”

Scores of quizzical frowns spiced the silence before Millie de Villiers rescued her husband with a half-whispered: “They don’t know.”

They don’t, but they do know genius.

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