TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE last time SA played a proper game at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai the groundsman had a strip torn off him about the strip in the middle.
But that was then – in October, when the one-day series against India was on the line.
This is now. SA play England at Mumbai’s glitziest ground on Friday in their first World T20 group match.
“Wankhede is so close to our conditions back home so it’s a great place to start,” Faf du Plessis said on Thursday.
“I do feel that this is one of the grounds in India where there is a bit in it for the bowlers as well – if your bowlers do the right things.
“If you take a lot of wickets up front it’s difficult (for the opposition) to get back in the game. There is a bit of bounce, a bit of swing; the ball travels, the wicket is good.
“Spinners are not as much as in the game as they would be in other grounds in India. But that’s the great thing about a tournament like this: you have variety.”
Not quite five months ago SA won that deciding ODI on a Wankhede pitch that played less like the compacted cat litter Indian surfaces often are and more like it had been dropped in from the Wanderers.
That prompted India’s team director, the larger than life but smaller than his own moustache Ravi Shastri, to become his best caricature of himself.
Whatever Shastri said to the groundsman, Sudhir Naik, the latter took enough exception to lay a complaint of verbal abuse.
Not that Wankhede’s groundstaff seem to have learnt their lesson. On Saturday SA beat India at Wankhede again, although in a warm-up match. Shastri’s mood was not messed with, it seems.
But the pitch prepared for the game between England and West Indies on Wednesday was a belter. Of course it was: India weren’t playing. Of course, Chris Gayle was playing – and he smashed an undefeated 100 off 48 balls.
Gayle is another challenge for another day. Next Friday, in fact, when the Windies will be SA’s opponents in Nagpur.
The here and now is that SA are up against an England team that, having been beaten by six wickets on Wednesday, are on a slippery slope to an early return home if they don’t win on Friday.
That makes them more dangerous than they were when SA beat them 2-0 last month in a T20 series tacked onto the end of a long tour.
Besides, a team harbouring Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Joe Root must be respected. And, even with Gayle going big, Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali kept their economy rates in the single figures.
SA have won 15 of the 21 T20s they have played in Asian conditions but no-one needs reminding that they have become less than the sum of their parts whenever the International Cricket Council have dangled a major trophy in front of them.
If one player can buck that trend, that player is AB de Villiers.
“What makes him so good is he doesn’t rely on one or two areas,” Du Plessis said. “As a batsman the more options you have the more successful you can be.”
De Villiers has as many options at the crease as Shastri has hairs in his moustache. He scored a century in that October ODI and in his four T20 innings at Wankhede, all for Royal Challengers Bangalore, he has made 155 runs – 133 of them in one innings.
And here we are, back at Wankhede and back in tournament mode. It’s that time again …