IND vs SA: Host looks for whitewash at ‘grassy’ Wanderers

The Wanderers’ pitch is typically grassy and should provide bounce and seam movement for the pacemen. It is expected to be lively and could pose more searching questions to the already beleaguered Indian batsmen.

South Africa has unearthed a gem in Lungi Ngidi. A bowler with pace and accuracy, Ngidi is clearly a man for the future.   -  Getty Images

 

The grass on the pitch at the Wanderers will force a smile from the normally taciturn Faf du Plessis’ visage.

It is typically grassy and should provide bounce and seam movement for the pacemen. The track, expected to be lively, could pose more searching questions to the already beleaguered Indian batsmen.

When the Indians trained here on a quiet Sunday, the batsmen would have been aware of the challenges of facing a four-pronged South African pace attack on this surface when the third Test gets underway on Wednesday.

du Plessis was both disappointed and baffled at the nature of the pitch for the second Test in Centurion which, actually, suited the Indians’ brand of play more.

He was angry too. After all, the South Africans had to cope with rank turners – du Plessis called them “bordering on the extreme” – when the side toured India in 2015.

And the Indian spinners exploited the conditions for a 3-0 sweep by host. That defeat has left behind scars on this South African side.

The setback and the memories of those pitches still hurts and the Proteas want the same score-line back – this time in their favour.

Even if the pitch gave the Indians an advantage in Centurion, the South African dug in deep, regrouped, displayed resilience with the bat, control and skill with the ball, and eventually quelled the Indian challenge.

And du Plessis has been brilliant at the helm. He is both a skipper and a leader of men, comprehends the importance of building bridges within the team.

Du Plessis’ captaincy has been aggressive without being rash. He can be ruthless with his methods, goes for the jugular. Importantly, he does not allow the crucial game-defining moments to fly away. He seizes them.

He is calm under pressure, doesn’t get carried away by the emotions of the moment. du Plessis had his fingers on the pulse of the game in the first two Tests.

He has often dared the batsmen with his field placements – leaving the mid-wicket open for Virat Kohli was a ploy to get him play across the line for a leg-before verdict – while his bowling changes have been spot on.

And his chemistry with new coach Ottis Gibson has been working. Both are like-minded and attacking, and the brave decision to play four specialist quicks at the expense of a batsman, Temba Bavuma, or an all-rounder, Chris Morris, has proved a master-stroke.

The ploy worked. Even after Dale Steyn was injured and could not bowl in the Indian second innings at Newlands, South Africa still had three seamers to complete the demolition job.

And at Centurion, the side unearthed a nugget in Lungi Ngidi, who was quick and on target; clearly a man for the future. And to cover all bases, South Africa fielded a fifth bowler too in left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.

The South African fielding and catching has been exceptional. In the two Tests so far, the host has put down just two opportunities while the Indians have dropped nine.

The razor-sharp fielding has backed the bowling, put the batsmen under stress, and created run-out scenarios; these were cashed in by lightning quick throws.

The electric AB de Villiers has created chances out of nothing. The tall Morne Morkel has flung himself on the boundary ropes to pull off sensational catches underlining South Africa’s commitment.

And de Villiers, stroke-filled and light-footed, has sizzled with the willow, turned matches around. The manner he picks the length early and plays the ball late makes him truly gifted.

The South African batting is not without chinks, has a tendency to lose wickets in bunches, but du Plessis has been resourceful in the middle-order, often rallying with the tail, employing calculated aggression or grinding it out.

For du Plessis and his men, there is unfinished job yet in the series.