South Africa might have won the T-20 and ODI series from India but that doesn’t convey any certainty on their repeat performance in the longest format of the game. One of the major factors working against them is the nature of Indian pitches, which traditionally encourage spin bowling. The other factor is related to the question, whether their pace bowlers can derive any advantage from pitch conditions in India. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are the spearheads of South African pace attack but lack of assistance from conditions in the sub-continent could work against their effectiveness in the upcoming 5-day duels. With series losses in shorter formats, India could roll out turners in the test series, since South Africa do not have enough experience on such tracks. Going by the warm-up match in Mumbai last week, South Africa are likely to play either Simon Harmer or Dane Piedt to provide spin-bowling support to Imran Tahir, who is the visitors’ first option. However it is not as straightforward as it is narrated here. There are injury problems for South Africa that must be given due credence and for Mohali’s first test, inclusion of either Harmer or Diedt would be left until the last moment. In a non-cricketing event, the naming of India-South Africa Series as Gandhi-Mandela Series is attracting needless debate in certain quarters.
The morale of the South Africans must be high after they defeated India in the 3-match T-20 series and followed that up with also taking the 5-match ODI series 3-2. But in most matches, the victory came from the efforts of their batsmen. The bowlers contributed at Rajkot and Mumbai but that happened only after the batsmen had provided them enough cushion. The test-match cricket, however, is a different cup of tea with India also having a home advantage. Added to that is India’s superior spin-attack headed by Ravichandran Ashwin, who looks fitter than ever now and although Harbhajan Singh has not been included, Amit Mishra can lend good support to Ashwin. With Ravindra Jadeja likely to make a return, India’s spin attack looks quite compact.
As for pace bowling, South Africans are a superior side to India. Dale Steyn is currently world’s no.1 test bowler with Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander having proved their worth on countless times. However, there is a problem because Morkel suffered an injury during the third ODI and if the Proteas continue with their three-pronged pace attack strategy, Morkel’s fitness could become a major issue. Their best T-20 and ODI bowler Kasigo Rabada is yet to play his first test but if Morkel cannot attain 100% match fitness, Rabada could earn his test cap at Mohali. Talking about injuries, JP Duminy is still having the uncut stitches from an injury he picked up in the third ODI and sitting on the sidelines for a while. If Duminy and Morkel are ruled out, the visitors will have to weigh their options in an altogether different way. The South African think-tank may play Steyn and Philander and include three spinners instead of handing out Rabada his first test cap. That decision could be influenced by both Morkel and Duminy being ruled out. These two did not play in the ODI games at Chennai and Mumbai and though Morkel bowled 5 maiden overs in Mumbai’s warm-up game, he couldn’t continue further. Loss of Duminy is akin to the loss of experience in the middle order in addition to the part-time bowling support that he can provide. There are plenty of other options for South African coach Domingo but he still has two more days to think about that.
In an issue unrelated with field action, a story appearing in the Kolkata Telegraph about naming the winner’s trophy for India-South Africa matches as Gandhi-Mandela Trophy opened a can-of-worms. When this new trophy was announced in August 2015, a critic remarked that by calling the trophy by its new name, small men would look smaller in their suggested association of two iconic world leaders. In terms of credibility and their actions, cricket administrations in the two nations cannot be compared with Gandhi and Mandela. There are other reasons why the name Gandhi-Mandela Trophy is inept. While Nelson Mandela was a great sports enthusiast, the same thing cannot be said about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or the Mahatma. Not only Gandhi had no interest in sport, he derided all forms of field actions by athletes. In his own publication, the Indian Opinion, Gandhi wrote a sharp editorial in July 1910 after the Nevada’s World Heavyweight Boxing Championship between white Jim Jeffries and black Jack Johnson. Against massive world interest in that fight, Gandhi found that people of America went mad as they watched two men hitting each other in a brute display of their body strength. Gandhi found barbarism in the action and added that America had no right to call itself a civilized nation. Boxing aside, Gandhi had no interest in hockey, cricket or any other sports. Incidentally Gandhi’s Indian Opinion didn’t have a sports section. Contrasted to Gandhi’s supreme disregard of sport, Mandela had deep interest in sports, being a boxer himself in his youth. When a friend came to visit him during his long jail-term at Robben Island, Mandela enquired whether Don Bradman was still alive. When Mandela became the first president of a democratic South Africa, he supported the national rugby team, which won the 1995 World Rugby Cup. Everyone knows how Mandela went out of his way in winning the rights of staging the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Rather than using the names of two great leaders, It would have been more appropriate to name the trophy as Kallis-Tendulkar Trophy. These two cricketers made more influence on fans in the two countries they represented.