It’s rarely a good moment to tour South Africa, and only Australia have won a Test series there in the last 10 years. But a traumatic 3-0 defeat in India that has left them looking more vulnerable than they have been for years.
Faced with turning tracks in Mohali, Bangalore, Nagpur and Delhi, Hashim Amla’s side escaped a whitewash only because rain wiped out four days of the second Test. The verdict of their trial by spin was a resounding ‘guilty’.
And, though England won’t necessarily be in a position to exploit that weakness this winter, South Africa’s batting against India’s slow bowlers took ineptitude to new levels.
In seven innings, they managed totals of 184, 109, 214, 79, 185, 121 and 143 — with the last of those occupying143.1 overs as they tried in vain to block their way to a draw at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin collected 31 wickets in the series at an average of 11, and slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja managed 23 at 10.
These are preposterous figures, the kind you get in schoolboy cricket. And they tell the story of a team on the wrong side of the peak.Alastair Cook’s team have their own demons to resolve, having won only one Test out of 14 away from home since surprising India in 2012-13.
But they will look at a South African side whose batting is overly reliant on Amla and, in particular, the brilliant AB de Villiers and wonder if the scars picked up in India can be reopened come the first of four Tests, at Durban on Boxing Day.
Even the usually unflappable Amla was unable to raise his game, totalling just 116 runs in the four Tests, while the otherwise reliable Faf du Plessis managed a feeble 60. Dane Vilas, who averaged eight, could be replaced behind the stumps by Quinton de Kock.
Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad may view a batting line-up that has found room for Temba Bavuma, Stiaan van Zyl and Dean Elgar, and conclude that there are wickets to be had. The days of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis plundering big hundreds are a thing of the past.
South Africa will, quite reasonably, point out that Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander — who, along with Morne Morkel, have formed world cricket’s most potent three-man pace attack over the past few years — were both limited to one Test out of four in India because of injury.
Philander’s ankle injury is set to rule him out at Durban, and possibly the New Year Test in Cape Town too, while Steyn is planning to make his return from a groin niggle in a four-day game with Cape Cobras in what would be his first domestic first-class appearance in six years.
None of this, of course, is reason for England to be complacent. They were lucky to cling on for a 1-1 draw the last time they visited South Africa in 2009-10, when No 11 Graham Onions found himself having to survive the final deliveries of the Tests in Centurion and Cape Town.
And, if Steyn is raring to go, one look at his Test record — 402 wickets at 22 apiece and a strike-rate of 41 — could be enough by itself to unsettle an England top order that may include Test debutant Alex Hales and the returning Nick Compton.
The pitches, too, will be as different from India as Earth is from Mars. While the Indian tracks were designed with their spinners in mind — and the surface atNagpur was rated ‘poor’ by the ICC — South African surfaces traditionally offer bounce and carry.
The home quicks will feel back in their element.But England will tell themselves that they have less to fear than they did a few weeks ago. And, despite South Africa’s surrender in India, Cook and Co remain underdogs. It is exactly how they like it.– Daily MailWisden editor Lawrence Booth says South Africa’s batting against India’s slow bowlers took ineptitude to new levels.
Original source: Proteas are ripe for the picking