Jasprit Bumrah’s fate changes India’s pitch plot
The injured fast bowler’s exit from the team to face SA on Wednesday has prompted a flurry at the stadium with the impossibly long name
Cape Town — What is in a name? Plenty — if that name is Jasprit Bumrah‚ who was due to play his first home Test on Wednesday.
Bumrah’s removal from the equation for the series against SA with a lower-back stress fracture seems to have prompted a change in the way the pitch is being prepared in what the locals call Vizag.
In his dozen Tests‚ all of them in SA‚ England‚ Australia and West Indies‚ Bumrah’s effective alchemy of unconventional skill and obvious talent has claimed 62 wickets.
Not since Kapil Dev‚ India’s champion quick with 434 scalps‚ was ripping through batting line-ups in the 1980s have Indians been as excited about one of their fast bowlers.
So the surface for the first Test was to have given pace bowlers a reason to get out of bed.
But word from India is that when Bumrah’s absence was confirmed‚ a week ago‚ the plan changed.
Now‚ if you’re Kagiso Rabada‚ Vernon Philander‚ Lungi Ngidi or Anrich Nortjé — or indeed Mohammed Shami‚ Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav‚ Bumrah’s replacement — best you call room service and order a late breakfast.
The pitch‚ Indian sources say‚ will be closer to the sunburnt‚ spin-struck surfaces on which SA were hammered 3-0 in their last series there in November 2015 — when the slow poisoners took 89 of the 124 wickets that fell to bowlers: 71.77%.
Maybe that is why Faf du Plessis used the word “tough” nine times in the not quite nine minutes he spent answering questions in his media conference on Tuesday.
Sometimes that happened in a positive sense‚ as in: “As tough as it was last time‚ the wickets then probably spun more than they will do in this series. It was really dry then and the ball spun a lot.
“As a batting unit we found it tough even though we had lots of experience in our team. Now we’ve got a new-looking unit. It’s a young batting line-up.
“So there’s not a lot of baggage that comes with the guys who are on tour.”
SA’s frontline batting line-up four years ago — AB de Villiers‚ Temba Bavuma‚ Dean Elgar‚ Hashim Amla‚ JP Duminy‚ Stiaan van Zyl and Du Plessis — had 750 Test innings between them.
The incumbents — Du Plessis‚ Bavuma‚ Elgar‚ Quinton de Kock‚ Theunis de Bruyn‚ Aiden Markram and Zubayr Hamza — hold 370.
Not that experience stopped the class of 2015 from crashing and burning to a 3-0 defeat in which they averaged 14.78: their lowest mark since readmission.
“Last time we came here‚ I found it very tough‚” Du Plessis said.
“I needed to get better from a defensive and a technical point of view. I needed to adapt to playing in tough conditions.
“It was tough for everyone‚ but there was huge value in that tour for me. After that I really started playing spin better.
“My record since then‚ when the ball is spinning‚ is a lot better — white ball or red ball.
“All players have to go through tough times to make them better; to make them understand where there are potential weaknesses in their game.
“Either you can disappear or you can come back stronger as a player. As tough as it was, it taught me a lot about myself and about playing spin.”
In his 33 innings before that series, Du Plessis averaged 51.55 and had scored four centuries and seven 50s.
Since then he has had 58 trips to the crease‚ averaging 42.77 with five hundreds and 19 half-centuries.
So the facts do not seem to chime with what he said. Or do they?
Before he came to India‚ Du Plessis was dismissed by spinners 13 times — that is 39.39% of his innings.
Since then he has been done by them eight times — 13.79%‚ an improvement of 25.60% in his stickability against slow bowlers.
An Indian batting coach should help others do the same. Amol Muzumdar‚ a former first-class player for Mumbai‚ will be in SA’s dressing room for the series.
“It’s a different mindset‚ a different language‚” Du Plessis said of Muzumdar’s contribution. “It’s different chats that you’re not used to‚ and that’s refreshing no matter how many games you’ve played.”
Keshav Maharaj is SA’s counter argument to a Bunsen burner pitch‚ and Du Plessis hailed him as “probably just as good as any spinner around the world”.
There is plenty in that name‚ too‚ just as there is in the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy Andhra Cricket Association/Visakhapatnam District Cricket Association ground‚ the full title of the venue for Wednesday’s game.
You can see why the locals call it Vizag.