SA looking for a fight, and for rain

23 February 2018 - 17:14 By Telford Vice in Cape Town
Farhaan Behardien during the South African national mens cricket team training session and press conference at PPC Newlands on February 23, 2018 in Cape Town.
Farhaan Behardien during the South African national mens cricket team training session and press conference at PPC Newlands on February 23, 2018 in Cape Town.
Image: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

Like drought-stricken Cape Town itself, Farhaan Behardien is praying for rain. Well he might.

“For once the rain is on our side; it’s hampered us over the last decade or so,” Behardien said with a skew smile and a glance out the window on Friday at Newlands, where South Africa’s T20 series against India will be decided on Saturday.

South Africa have won only two of the eight white-ball games they have played against India this summer, not least because they have lost Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock to injury.

“Take Shikhar [Dhawan], Rohit [Sharma] and [Virat] Kohli out of their team and put AB, Faf and ‘Quinny’ back in our team, and the complexion changes 100%,” Behardien said.

Fair enough. But rain did its bit in both of South Africa’s successes by blunting the sharp double-edged sword of India’s attack, leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav — who between them claimed 33 of the 51 wickets that fell to the visitors’ bowlers in the six one-day internationals.

They took three in the ODI South Africa won, by five wickets in the rain at the Wanderers on February 10, but Kuldeep went for 8.5 runs an over and Chahal for 12.4. In the rest of the series those numbers were 4.1 and 4.2.

A hand injury has kept Kuldeep out of the first two T20s but Chahal’s 1/39 in the first of them, at the Wanderers on Sunday, became 0/64 in Centurion on Wednesday — when it rained and South Africa won by six wickets.

It’s difficult enough bowling wrist spin at the best of times, nevermind in these days of the white-ball game being outrageously weighted in favour of batsmen.

Add rain to the equation, which makes an already slick ball damn near impossible to grip properly, and spinners are always going to come second.

Saturday’s forecast is for a morning shower and then a cool and cloudy 18-degree day and evening, but there shouldn’t be much of the wet stuff around when the first ball is bowled at 6pm.

So South Africa will have to get the job done the old-fashioned way if they are to add the T20 rubber to the test series they won in the first few weeks of India’s tour.

But they have done some homework on the two spinners. Kuldeep, Behardien said, “does show you a scrambled seam when he bowls his googly, and when he bowls leg breaks the seam is straight”.

And, amid the consternation over their white-ball form, the home side have managed to unearth a red-bearded diamond in Heinrich Klaasen, whose 30-ball 69 had plenty to do with them levelling the series on Wednesday.

“He has come from a long line of players from the Tukkies institute,” Behardien said of the wicketkeeper-batsman, his Titans teammate who stepped into the breach left by another Titan, De Kock.

“He used to bat in the middle order but now, for the Titans, with the middle order being strong with myself, Albie [Morkel], David Wiese or Chris Morris, he normally goes in at No. 4, which gives him a little bit more responsibility.

“He has floated around that middle order around some experienced players for the last three years, so he has built up his character and his game.

“‘Bouch’ [Titans coach Mark Boucher] has had an influence on the way I play and the way he plays and the way we train, and it’s no surprise that he has stepped up.

“He is a very hard character, he is a competitor, he wants to be on the stage, he wants to play for a long time. That’s the way he is.

“He has similar competitiveness to guys like AB and Faf — guys who want to be in the fight, who want to pick a fight with the opposition. He is not scared of that.”

Fighting talk is never a bad thing, but South Africa should keep praying for rain.