INDIA’S TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA, 2018
K Shriniwas Rao in Mumbai • Last updated on Wed, 03 Jan, 2018, 06:38 AM
If fully fit, South Africa’s bowling attack is very formidable – Tendulkar. © Getty
As a young India team gears up to face the first big task of a year replete with challenges, a lot of questions are waiting to be asked of them. Can they take on the formidable South Africans in their own backyard and pull off something that’s never been done before? Who better than Sachin Tendulkar to tell us what usually goes on in the mind of a batsman on a tour like this one, what’s playing in South Africa all about and what’s the key to survive in one of the world’s toughest cricketing destinations.
Excerpts from an interview…
You’ve played South Africa right from the time they came back to international cricket. They’ve always been among the most competitive sides…
When we went to South Africa for the first time, it didn’t take us long to realise what was coming our way. From the first game itself we realised the level of cricket they were playing. For instance, the warm-up game that we played against the Board’s President’s XI back then. It was a huge eye-opener for us. Even their second and third teams showed such immense potential. At each level, they were busy raising the bar. They’ve always been a competitive side in multiple ways.
A combination of factors that works…
The thing with South Africa is they always enjoyed an amazing balance. The all-rounders lent an air of authority. And by all-rounders, I just don’t mean guys who could bat and bowl. To me, Jonty Rhodes is the most amazing guy I’ve ever seen on a cricket field when it came to fielding. I’ve seen many good fielders over the years. Ponting, Gibbs, they were all exceptional. But Jonty was something different. Likewise, when I speak of all-rounders, look at the transition that happened from Brian McMillan to Jacques Kallis.
Kallis and McMillan could walk into any team. Today’s South Africa doesn’t have similar arsenal…
A batsman used to be their fourth fast bowler (Kallis) or they had a bowler who could bat at No. 6 (McMillan). These were elements to a side that just changed the entire outlook when they took field. They had set very high standards. Today, South Africa don’t have that luxury. I’m not saying they’re not a good team. They’ve been among the best at home and away over a sustained period of time. But they don’t enjoy the luxury they did when the likes of McMillan and Kallis were around. I’m talking about a time when a batsman in the team could be that extra bowler or that bowler in the team could be counted upon to score the runs. And not just any batsman who could ball but one of the best all-rounders ever (Kallis).
What do you make of this South African attack?
If fully fit, it’s a very formidable attack. Dale Steyn is still good with the new and the old ball. Morne Morkel can be very handy in home conditions. I’ve not played (Kagiso) Rabada but from what I’ve seen, he likes to pitch it up and can be very unpredictable. And if there are seaming tracks, then Vernon Philander can be very dangerous. You’ve got to wait and watch what kind of wickets they prepare. If they’ve got to make the best use of Philander, then my guess is they’ll be dishing out seaming wickets.
Is it the start that will matter more than anything else?
The first spell is going to be very critical. A lot depends on how we tackle the new ball. If we handle the new ball well then we can actually set the pace for the innings. Getting runs on the board is the key. Regardless of it all, it all depends on how you do on Day One.
It’s hardly a secret to what kind of wickets South Africa will offer. Your views?
The Kolkata pitch India played on in the (recent) Test was a different one (against Sri Lanka). There was movement. Even the Mohali ODI track was different. Playing the new ball was the key. But again, one has to wait and watch what kind of tracks are laid out and the factors that revolve around it on that given day. I remember the 2011 Cape Town wicket when I played, had a lot of off-the-pitch movement. It’s been a long time but I remember it was good to bat on. So you see, conditions make a lot of difference.
Even if pace-friendly wickets are laid out (in India), it’s still a different ballgame playing in South Africa or England or Australia…
In India, the new ball is important but the crucial phase for a batsman begins from the 18th to the 20th over, if it’s an SG ball, and until the 40th to 50th over it’s a very dangerous phase. If the wicket is flat, the ball reverse swings during these overs. The ball will swing later too, but it is likely to swing at a different pace. It’ll also reverse swing at 70 overs, but the batsman can adjust because you get the time. Now, what happens when you play abroad? Away from our conditions, the first 25 overs get critical. The new ball and the movement it gets, that’s the crucial phase for a sub-continent batsman touring overseas.
A lot goes on in the mind of a batsman when at the crease. There could be multiple factors on mind. But the obvious aside, what’s the key when playing the new ball?
Discipline. That’s the key. And then it’s about footwork, but footwork is more about the mind. If the mind is free, then the feet are free. These are two important aspects. A lot depends on what state of mind you are in, whether you’re complicating things inside your mind or just keeping it simple. Whatever works, as long as you’re in the right frame. And discipline, which has to come from within. It has to come instinctively and learn what to play, what to leave.
And the urge to tinker with a delivery that’s moving away from the batsman early on in the innings, to move outside the line and play the new ball… it often costs the top order heavily. How does one control that?
There’s a secret to this: A good batsman will always see to it that his hands are close to him. And a good bowler will always see to it that he gets the batsman to move his hands away from the body. Both exactly work the opposite of each other and that’s where the plotting begins. The closer your hands remain to your body will mean you’re using your feet, which in turn is what your mind is telling you, to move closer in line of the ball. If the feet don’t move, but the batsman tries to move in line with the ball, then the upper body begins to compensate for that movement. That’s where it gets tricky. How you settle down into that rhythm is the key.
So it’s also instinctive?
It is instinctive. There’s no set formula to go about. Of course, there are some basics which are set. But that aside, on a particular day, if you’re feeling good about a certain aspect of play, you should feel free to go ahead and do that.
Each time India travels abroad, there’s a common cry: We can’t play pace.
The batsmen I played with – Sehwag, Sourav, Rahul and Laxman – have all played and scored against quality pace. I don’t think that’s the case.
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