TELFORD VICE, Nagpur
ON Tuesday, the day before the third test between India and SA started at Jamtha, the visitors asked for 10 spinners as net bowlers for that afternoon’s training session.
These were provided, and SA’s batsman took guard so as to ensure they would have to deal with the rough created by the Indians in the morning.
Call what happened next a case of boys to men. Or perhaps men to boys.
As evening descended, the starry-eyed sapling spinners marvelled among themselves about how they beat or even dismissed not only batsmen of ability of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, but also Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis.
And here we are, three days later, with SA looking down both barrels of a devastating defeat. Unless they find 278 more runs or stay alive at the crease for three more days, they will lose an away series for the first time since August 2006 – 14 rubbers on the road ago.
How big a role a gaggle of eager kids played in dragging SA to this ebb is moot, but they won’t have smoothed the brows of a team who duly collected millstones rather than milestones on Thursday.
SA’s total of 79 is the lowest yet scored by any team against India in their 494 tests, as well as SA’s lowest since they were dismissed for 72 by England in the New Year’s Day test at Newlands in 1957.
Then, as now, SA succumbed to spin with Johnny Wardle taking 7/36. The difference was Wardle took most of those wickets on the fifth day of a match in which England scored 369 in the first innings.
Only JP Duminy, Du Plessis and Simon Harmer made it to double figures, and only Duminy passed 13. All of SA’s players batted as if they would rather have been cleaning a long-drop toilet.
Ravichandran Ashwin bowled with poise and grace to earn 5/32. Unfortunately, he did not bring those qualities to his press conference – where he was asked whether pitches like this narrowed the gap between more ordinary bowlers and off-spinners of his superb skill and talent.
“Fortunately or unfortunately I do not have the rights over the groundsman to say what type of pitch he needs to prepare,” Ashwin’s stream-of-consciousness reply began.
“Once that is done and he had laid out the six stumps both sides it’s my job to go out and play. I didn’t complain when I played at Johannesburg – I was dropped for a year – and I’m not going to complain here either.
“I see no reason why I have to complain. Swing, seam and bounce, two days match over at Trent Bridge. I don’t know what’s that about.
“What’s the problem with spin and bounce? It’s good even spin and bounce, isn’t it? It’s about skill for batsmen to play and counter it.”
Many of those listening also didn’t know what that was about.
Happily, Russell Domingo did bring his manners, and his good humour, to the table.
Asked why Imran Tahir was introduced as late as the 25th over of India’s second innings – and promptly took 5/38 in 11.3 overs – Domingo explained and added, “Hindsight would probably have called tails at the toss.”
Questioned on SA’s failed use of Tahir as a nightwatchman in both innings, Domingo said, “He was a nightwatchman but he batted like a pinch-hitter.”
However, the elephant in the room remained the pitch …
“If you’re winning the series it’s easy to criticise the pitch. If you’re behind, it’s difficult.”
Attention: there’s a classy guy on deck.