South Africa have been outclassed by India in the on-going six-match One Day International series. After winning the Test series 2-1 against India, the hosts - who began the series as the No 1 ODI side - were favourites to win in the shorter format too. However, five matches later, they have lost the series 4-1.
The reason for their downfall is simple: wrist spin.
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have tormented the South Africa batsmen, accounting for 30 of the 43 wickets to fall in the five matches. From the seasoned Hashim Amla to the lesser-experienced batsmen, the struggle has been real.
Talking to The Field, former South African captain Kepler Wessels is surprised by the way the South Africa have fallen apart against the duo.
“I am a little bit surprised, not that they have struggled with the wrist spin, but they have struggled to such a degree. Considering you have taken out all your top batsmen with the exception of Hashim Amla, then you expose all your inexperienced batsmen - so that is going to happen. But I have been surprised to see them struggle as badly as they have,” said Wessels, who is in India as a part of broadcaster SONY’s analysis panel for the series.
Injury-hit South Africa
With Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock injured and AB de Villiers missing the first three matches, the rest of the South Africa batsmen have repeatedly failed to read the spinners. They have failed to pick the ball that turns in or out. With Yadav and Chahal having different actions, the opposition is flustered further.
“I think they are struggling to pick the wrist spinner chinaman (Kuldeep). I think they have more difficulty picking the ball turning away from the right hander. I think that is the one they are really struggling against,” said Wessels.
However, he feels that lack of know-how also is bothering the batsmen. South Africa have Imran Tahir in their ranks, who has been successful in the ODIs and T20Is but even he has struggled to make any real impact, while left-arm bowler Tabraiz Shamsi doesn’t possess the same threat as Kuldeep. Not being used to such high quality wrist spin, it’s not a surprise that Kuldeep and Chahal have had such success.
“I don’t think they realized how good these two leg spinners are. I think they got blindsided by it. I am sure they knew they were good but they didn’t realize how good they were,” said Wessels.
And if the numbers are anything to go by, the 60-year-old is right. The duo’s 30 wickets has come at an average of a little over 13. Yadav has taken 16 wickets (a record for a spinner in any bilateral series in South Africa) with Chahal taking 14 wickets.
No spinners in the domestic circuit
However, Wessels says that the problem has no solution in sight since the domestic circuit in South Africa does not promise much in terms of spinning talent. “I hardly see any wrist spin at home. It is seam and pace in domestic matches so they see very little wrist spin,” said Wessels.
Plus the conditions will not change in the domestic circuit to empower spinners.
“Conditions in South Africa will always, in domestic cricket, help seam bowlers. You are never going to get surfaces where you can just play two or three spinners in the team,” he said.
With Australia coming to South Africa next, one can expect them to carry a couple of spinners along. However, Wessels feels it won’t have the same effect if the spinner is not as good as Chahal and Yadav. “No doubt visiting teams will get wrist spinners along now. If he is not good then it doesn’t really matter. These two are better than most,” said Wessels.
World Cup 2019 in mind
For now, the team has to work with the available talent so that they can improve keeping in mind the World Cup next year feels Wessels.
“They have to sit with the batsmen and work out a way to pick the ball. They are not picking which way the ball is going to spin. They have to find a strategy of how to pick which way the ball is turning and over a longer period work on that. There is no quick fix situation in the next two weeks. At least it has happened now and going forward towards the World Cup, they have a lot of time,” said Wessels.
And this where the senior players must step in.
“I mean there will be a lot of pressure on AB de Villiers. Hashim Amla is the other one who plays spin well. He (Amla) hasn’t been in the best of form off late. If anybody has to turn it around, it is going to be those two. They have to play well,” said Wessels.
With most senior players nearing their retirements and not getting any younger, Wessels feels that the youngsters have to step up their game.
“Hashim, AB and Faf are more or less the same age so there is a chance that post-2019 they might not be there anymore. With the exception of Aiden Markaram nobody has really established themselves. So it is a concern,” added Wessels.
Only time will tell how South Africa get the better of this spin problem.
The sixth One-day will be shown on Sony Ten1 Sports and Sony Ten 1 Sports HD at 4:30pm on February 16.