October 28, 2016

Spin warning for South Africa in Nagpur

The last time South Africa played in Nagpur, in 2010, the match got over on Day 4. (TOI Photo)

“Of course, it’s not that Mohali pitch (of the first Test). But it’s no less,” said a source in the know of the playing surface prepared for the third India-South Africa Test starting in Nagpur on Wednesday (November 25). This prediction on the behaviour of the Jamtha track will surely set alarm bells ringing in the South African camp.

So far, in none of their three innings have the visitors has batted beyond 68 overs. In the three outings, the aggregate of the number of overs they have stayed on the pitch just about touches 170. At times the pitches offered turn, at times the mental block created by the fear of spin monsters brought about South Africa’s downfall. The Jamtha pitch will again be a stern test for the visiting batsmen.

“It will turn, surely. It will not be too different from the pitches we have seen so far in the series. India will have the home advantage,” Amar Karlekar, the Vidarbha Cricket Association curator told TOI on Sunday .

It was a given that the pitch would assist spinners. But the big question is how soon will spin come into play. The centre pitch on which the Test will be played, was last used a month back. The curator used the Ranji Trophy game against Assam for ‘testing’ the pitch.

“The Assam match was played on this very surface. Vidarbha team management wanted a pitch to help their spinners. I too wanted to see how it turns out. We won that game and we have all seen how the pitch behaved,” Karlekar said. The game saw Vidarbha pressing its spinners into action as early as sixth over on the Day 1 ­ they took 16 wickets to fashion victory for the hosts.

“It’s a pitch where a skipper can go with three spinners and a lone pacer. It will be dry and will help spinners right from the start. The only assistance on offer for the pacers will be the reverse swing,” an official said, echoing the curator’s view. The last time South Africa played in Nagpur, in 2010, the match got over on Day 4.

The prediction this time around is not much different. But the pitch is nothing like the one five years back. It was a batting paradise, having true bounce, and back then Hashim Amla hit a double ton as the visitors posted a 550-plus total. Dale Steyn, in a perfect display of reverse swing, then rocked the Indians in first innings with a five-wicket haul. India lost the match by an innings and more.

Asked if a fast bowler would be able to replicate the feat, the curator gave a wry smile. “Frankly, I don’t think something like that will be possible this time. It will be very difficult for a fast bowler to repeat that feat on this surface. Of course, if the batsmen gift away wickets, things could be different,” the Jamtha curator said.

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