Captain Faf du Plessis believes that South Africa must adapt more decisively to the different conditions they find on dusty and turning wickets on the sub-continent where spin bowlers hold much sway in the outcome of matches.
Du Plessis’s comments come in the wake of losing the Test series 2-0 to Sri Lanka in which their batsmen, apart from Theunis de Bruyn’s gallant century on the final day, could not handle the spin and guile of the bowlers.
South Africa put up their best score of the series in the final innings, scoring 290.
But, chasing 490, it didn’t add up to to much and didn’t change the fact that they had scored 126, 73 and 124 in the three preceding innings.
“Whether it’s playing two or even three spinners, when you come to conditions like this you give yourself the best opportunity,” said Du Plessis when asked if fielding just the one specialist spinner in Keshav Maharaj (9/129 and 3/154) was a sensible call.
They did play Tabraiz Shamsi alongside Maharaj in the first Test, but stuck to their plan of playing three pacers in both Tests.
They found little joy.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, fielded Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera in both Tests, and had Lakshan Sandakan in the first and Akila Dananjaya in the second.
Between them, they picked up 37 of the 40 South African wickets to fall.
“Whenever a team tours the sub-continent, whether it’s Australia or England or us, there’s always a question mark on how you play spin.
“It’s a world issue that we’re trying to get better at. I don’t think we play spin badly, but if you compare yourself to the sub-continent batters, then they’re obviously a step above us in that regard,” said Du Plessis.
“It has to be a case of looking at how you can get your own home conditions to try and get exposed to these kinds of conditions a little more often, when you’re playing first-class cricket. That’s where the challenge lies for the South Africas and the Englands and the Australias.”
On the performance of his pacers – Kagiso Rabada picked up eight wickets but the others were off the boil –Xu Plessis argued, “I think it would be unfair to judge our seam bowlers on these performances.
“They tried hard, but it was just really tough to get something out of the wicket. The wicket was quite dusty.
“You saw with a lot of balls that when it hit there was a little bit of explosion. That takes out all the pace out of the delivery. Our pace factor that we had as a threat was not a weapon in these conditions.”
Among the pace bowlers was Dale Steyn, back in the Test side after another injury layoff and looking for three wickets to cross Shaun Pollock and become South Africa’s most successful bowler in Tests.
He wheeled away for 52.4 overs across the two Tests, but picked up only two wickets. Happily from his and his team’s point of view, he go through without any discomfort, even if he wasn’t too lucky.
“It was frustrating for Dale because he gives everything; he was running in but there was nothing happening for him. There was no reverse (swing) from the wicket,” said Du Plessis.