This ODI series was between the two top ranked sides in the world, but as the final match on Friday draws near, it is clear that it has been a mismatch. South Africa, who began the series as the No 1 side and firm favourites, do not deserve to be among the top-four favourite sides for next year’s World Cup.
It also throws light on how irrational these rankings are. India are the No 1 Test side, but only on the back of victories at home. Similarly, South Africa had been crushing weak opponents like Bangladesh at home to cement their position at the top in ODIs. But once faced with a quality spin attack, like they did at the Champions Trophy last year and now here, they floundered.
Although Proteas coach Ottis Gibson says spinners won’t have a big role to play in England at the time the World Cup will be played, records suggest that teams with good spin attacks and batsmen who can play spin have won the World Cup or qualified for the final wherever and whenever it has been held.
“We let ourselves down with the bat. There’s not a lot more to say than that. It’s something we have been talking about for five games now. We showed at the Wanderers that we can play better than we have done, but tonight (Tuesday) was disappointing,” said Gibson after another meek performance at Port Elizabeth.
“In every game, one of their top three has scored a hundred and that’s been the difference in the series. We got one hundred from our captain Faf du Plessis in Durban, and we’ve not been able to get another hundred since. It’s not that we can’t. Hash (Hashim Amla) has 27 hundreds in ODI cricket so he knows how to do it, but he’s not been allowed to either by the way they have bowled or the lack of confidence in our batting. You want to have a group of players who can adapt to certain conditions. We know we have those players but they haven’t produced it in this series, which is disappointing.”
JP Duminy was asked if the Indian spinners were actually good or the South Africans made them look unplayable.
“In South Africa, we are used to hitting spinners straight down the ground as they usually bowl full. But in this series, they have held the length back and given flight to confuse us,” he had said after the third ODI at Cape Town.
Hussein Manack, a former cricketer who played first-class cricket for Transvaal and is now a national selector, says the Indian spinners have been smart. “In India, you can bowl quick and turn the ball. Here you can’t. They have understood that you need to give flight, and impart overspin, to extract turn here. The South Africa spinners have been pushing the ball through.”
Both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have got a bagful of wickets. Kuldeep, who has 16 wickets in five matches here, had just 22 wickets in 14 games before this series. Chahal has picked 14 in five games, while he had 27 in the previous 17 games.
There is no doubt that the absence of Du Plessis and AB de Villiers (for the first three games) and the emphasis on quotas, forcing them to bring in players not really from the top drawer, has hurt them.
Despite that, it isn’t that South Africa lack experience. Amla, Duminy and De Villiers, who played on Tuesday, are experienced. Amla showed he can hold off the spinners, but in the first three games he fell early, even before the spinners arrived. To win on Tuesday, South Africa needed either Amla or De Villiers to stay till the end. Neither did.