Thursday, September 26, 2019

Two spin(ners) or not two spinners

When South Africa toured India in 2015, something peculiar happened. It wasn't that we lost 3-0, having gone over a decade undefeated in overseas tours. That was sad, but all good things come to an end. What I am referring to is the fact that we went into the majority of a series with two spinners. This was not just rare, it literally has never happened before. Not even in our previous tours to India.

This may seem instinctively counter-intuitive, but South Africa has had the good fortune of having elite subcontinental fast bowlers in the tank . Shaun Pollock averaged a respectable 27 in India, and 22 in Pakistan. Allan Donald averaged 16 in India, and of course, Dale Steyn's average of 21 in the subcontinent is legendary. Even an accessory talent like Morne Morkel had a respectable enough average of 32 in India. When your guns are that big, there is simply no need to have a second spinner. Especially when your first spinner is Nicky Boje or Paul Harris. Honest, hard working spinners. But when your front line spinners are basically about as potent as the opposition's back up spinner, it serves to reason that your back spinner will probably not be a match-winner. 

Historically, this high pace battery has worked well for South Africa. In the 21st century, South Africa have won one Test series and drawn two others out of five in India. Of the two series they drew, they were leading the series heading into the final Test in both. 

Clearly, the three pace bowler line up and one spinner line up has worked extremely well for the Proteas in India. There are however extenuating circumstances. For one, pitches in India are no longer what they were. This is less a concern than a statement of fact. Where India was once a batting paradise for the technically proficient, it became a battle of survival the last time South Africa was there. Dean Elgar had four wickets before lunch of the first Test, which is as big a sign of a rank turner as is humanly possible. These are the conditions under which  the Proteas will likely play the upcoming India series. We already know Keshav Maharaj is legit business. He took wickets for fun in the last year's series vs Sri Lanka. The question is whether the second spinner, likely Dane Piedt has the wares to bowl well enough to warrant overs as the second spinner.

The other concern is generally, when a team plays two spinners, one of them is generally good enough to bast at 8, and thus lengthen the batting line up. Take India for example, both Jadeja and Ashwin could probably bat 6 at an absolute push. In the Protea line-up, Vernon  Phlander may potentially be a Test seven in a loaded batting line-up, but none of the spinners are capable of batting any higher than nine. 

With all this in mind, would I play two spinners? Yes, but only because I don't think conditions will require more than a second pace bowler.. 

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