Ahead of the third Test in Nagpur, South African skipper Hashim Amla opened up about his team, which is in a stage of transition following the departures of some of their mainstays. He said they are still working out a perfect batting order that will bring balance to the side.

“When I took over the captaincy, one of the ideas was to give me a bit more time, especially when we fielded first, to bat at No. 4. But you never know. We’re a team in a little bit of transition, with a couple of new faces, so we’re still finding the perfect batting order. So yes, there’s no reason I couldn’t bat at No. 3 at some stage.”

The South Africa captain also took time to reflect on the Test series so far. “We haven’t played our best Test cricket. If one goes back in the past, in Mohali I’d definitely say that in the first three innings, we were definitely in it. If India were bowled out for 201, and we got bowled out for 184, I think it’s a fair reflection that the game was pretty poised until the last innings, in which we didn’t do too well. On the first day of the last Test, we didn’t bat well again. So it hasn’t been our full-flowing Test cricket that we’re normally used to. It would be a great for a start if in Nagpur we can get on to the pitch and put up a performance that the South African team is used to.”

Slip catching

Talking of slip catching, Amla said it was going smoothly but it will take time and practice to reach the standards set by stalwarts like Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith. “I don’t think we’ve had any alarm bells so far. We’re very grateful that we’ve got some great slippers… AB is among the best fielders in the world, fast and (with) very good hands. I’m trying to do my bit at first slip. But you don’t often see the ball carry to slips in the subcontinent, but as I said, slip catching, like every other discipline, takes a lot of time, practice. So we’re trying to give it as much time as we can to make sure that we’re giving ourselves the best chance of taking the catch.”

The captain was also confident about his team’s chances on a spinning track at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium. “Well, it looks like a good cricket wicket, one that we kind of expect in the subcontinent. They’ve played three spinners in the first game too, so it’s nothing new. Yes, not having Dale (Steyn) in the team is a setback because not having the best bowler in the world is never a nice thing. But we’ve got to deal with it, and we’ve got some good reserves. Hopefully, the guys who play will get a chance to stand out.”

All praise for the facilities

Amla praised the facilities provided and claimed that he and his team got adequate preparation for the up-coming Test match. “The net facilities have been very good and we’ve managed to practise on both, wickets that turn and wickets that don’t turn. It’s been a very good preparation so far. I definitely would have liked to have got more runs in the One-Dayers and Tests so far. Hopefully, the runs are still to come. We’ve got two big Test matches to deal with.”

India’s spin bowlers, especially the spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravinchandran Ashwin, were impressive in the two Tests, picking up 12 wickets each. “They Indian team has bowled very well. In the second innings of the first Test, our spinners took eight of the 10 wickets, so our spinners have also done a very decent job whenever they’ve managed to bowl on tracks that turn. Imran (Tahir) has always been an attacking spinner and Simon (Harmer) has been growing in stature,” Amla asserted.

The batting maestro said the match is a “must-win” game for his young side. “If you look at being one-nil down, it’s a must-win game for us to win the series. We came here with the mentality of winning the series. So from the first game, we had five frontline bowlers. For me that’s a very attacking option because we need to take 20 wickets to win a Test. We’ve not managed to do that. Hopefully in this Test match, we’d pick up 20 wickets and score the runs for us.”

‘Batsmen need to bounce back’

Amla said his batsmen were out of form and asserted the need for them to bounce back. “When a team doesn’t score runs, there will be a lot of different theories thrown about. As I said, in the first game, after bowling India out for 200, had we won that game, this question would probably have been thrown at India. So you’ve got to take things in perspective.

“Their spinners have bowled well, and it was probably the lack of turning balls that got us out. As a batter, when you see a ball turn, it does make you aware that the ball is turning, but when you leave one and it doesn’t turn, you don’t look too good. I think, we’ve managed to prepare well. The best you can do is to prepare the best you can. And to the credit of all our batters, even all our lower-order guys, they’ve put in a lot of time to play the ball as you see it,” said Amla.

Even though the Indian tracks tend to favour the slow bowlers, the South African captain does not see his side dropping the seamers to accommodate more spinners. “We have (JP) Duminy who bowls off-spin quite regularly and Dean Elgar who bowls left-arm orthodox. To play three front-line spinners, I’m not sure if that’s a possibility for us. Those spinners have taken most of the wickets in the subcontinent.

“Dale’s record in the subcontinent, there’s no one better than him. The seamers are going to play, they certainly have a role for us. But our spinners are growing and they’re getting better and better as we see. Hopefully it would work for us.”