Chandigarh:Murali Vijay, the Indian opener, said the other day that the bounce on the South African wickets is not a big problem — the big problem is the swing. “Bounce can be managed but swing is difficult,” Vijay said. He did not refer to another deadly factor — movement off the pitch. When the ball’s seam (the raised, thready part where the leather is sewed together) hits the pitch, it’s very difficult to judge which way the ball would go — whether it would come in towards the stumps or move away from the wicket. The poor batsman is liable to get bowled or trapped lbw if the ball moves in, and caught-behind if it moves away. This problem is magnified on grassy, damp pitches on which the ball skids after hitting the surface. That’s why batsmen from the Indian Subcontinent struggle in England, South Africa or New Zealand.
In India’s first innings, four batsmen were caught behind by the wicketkeeper, five were caught at the slips or gully, and two were lbw. This is the usual story of Indian batsmen’s struggles in South Africa.
Thirteen 100s have been made by Indian batsmen in South Africa in the 18 Tests played by India prior to the current Test in Cape Town. Sachin Tendulkar alone made five of these 100s. No other Indian batsman has made more than one Test 100 there — Rahul Dravid, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Kapil Dev, Wasim Jaffer, Mohammad Azharuddin, Virender Sehwag and Pravin Amre have a 100 apiece in South Africa. Dravid has only three 80-plus scores in South Africa, including a 148; his average there is a lowly 29.71 in 11 Tests, against his career average of 52.31. VVS Laxman’s highest in South Africa is 96, and he’s got only four 50s in 18 innings there. Sourav Ganguly has made four 50s in his 16 innings there, with a top score of 73. Sehwag got a 105 in his first innings in South Africa, on Test debut, but could make only one 50-plus score in his 14 subsequent innings there.
Going further back, Sanjay Manjrekar averaged 23.20 in South Africa, without a 100 or 50; Ravi Shastri averaged 11.80 in three Tests; Azharuddin averaged 23.33 in seven Tests there. All these numbers are a testament to the challenges batsmen face in South Africa — historically, India’s batsmen have been troubled by the in-air and off-pitch movement of the ball there, apart from the bounce. Virat Kohli’s men are going to have to play better than ever before in their lives if they’re to return from South Africa with their reputations enhanced.