TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
YOU wouldn’t expect the Nagpur groundsman to do SA any favours, not after the 22 yards of day-old chapati he prepared for the test they played against India there in November.
Even the International Cricket Council (ICC), not often a repository of common sense, condemned that surface as “poor” – forever tainting the victory India achieved to clinch the series.
So when SA returned to the city at India’s geographical centre this week to play a World T20 match against West Indies on Friday, they thought they knew what they were in for.
“When we got here on the first day of practice the wicket was very dry and we just prepared ourselves accordingly to play on it,” Faf du Plessis said yesterday.
But that was before Andy Atkinson, the ICC’s pitch consultant, took action. The pitch originally selected for Friday’s game was apparently the same strip used in a WT20 game on March 15: New Zealand dwindled to a total of 126/7 and India were dismissed for 79.
Six of the 12 bowlers who turned their arms over that day were spinners. They claimed 11 of the 17 wickets and had a collective economy rate of 5.13.
So, at Atkinson’s suggestion, another – presumably faster – pitch was chosen for Friday.
“I assume that the reason they’re changing it is to not be as dry or not to spin as much as it possibly could have on that dry surface,” Du Plessis said. “But it’s still two teams competing and possibly it’s going to be a spinning deck, so I don’t think too much will change.”
Whether that means SA will stick with Russell Domingo’s heavy hint earlier this week that SA would play both their frontline spinners, Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso, is keenly anticipated.
But what hasn’t changed is that SA need to win if they are to retain serious hopes of reaching the semi-finals.
They have lost only once – to England in their opening game – but the cut-throat format of the tournament means that two losses will likely remove a side from the equation for a place in the final four.
Adaptability, Du Plessis said, was key to SA staying on track.
“We do rely as a team on being smart and to make the correct decisions on whatever the surface is on the day,” he said. “If you consistently prepare for those sort of scenarios, where you need to adapt every day and you don’t just rely on one gameplan and one specific batsman to come off, that’s all you can do.
“As a team we do that very well, especially as a batting unit – we adapt quickly and we’re smart in our decision making.
“We’ve got guys that can play quite a few different roles and that’s going to be the key here. If it’s going to be a slow Bunsen burner then we have to make the transition quicker than the West Indian team.
“Obviously they are a power-hitting team, so they realise their strength and also their weakness. But for us it’s about being the smartest ones on the day.”
West Indies and New Zealand are the only unbeaten teams in the tournament, but the Windies have two to play including Friday’s game. So their foot will be firmly on the gas – and they will have big-hitting Chris Gayle back in harness following a hamstring scare.
But Windies captain Darren Sammy warned SA not to focus all their attention on Gayle.
“We have 15 matchwinners,” Sammy said. “Yes, Chris is our biggest player. But there’s no pressure on him to perform. We as a group know what we have.”
SA will have to make do without JP Duminy, who has been ruled out with a hamstring strain.
“People will see how important JP is to our team now that he’s missing,” Du Plessis said. “He’s an allrounder who, especially in these conditions, plays a role with both bat and ball – and that’s even talking about his experience.
“A lot of talk that has gone into it, especially on who can do that sixth bowler’s job.”
The time for talk is done. It’s time for SA to win – or, probably, pack their bags.