Bumrah's fate changes India's pitch plot
What’s 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 South Africa with a lower back stress fracture seems to have prompted a significant change in the way the pitch in what the locals call Vizag is being prepared.
In his dozen Tests‚ all of them in South Africa‚ 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 Mohammad 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‚ spinstruck surfaces on which South Africa 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’s why Faf du Plessis used the word “tough” nine times in the not quite nine minutes he spent answering questions in his press 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.”
South Africa’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 — have 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‚ or less than half as many as their predecessors.
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‚ personally‚ 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’s had 58 trips to the crease‚ averaging 42.77 with five hundreds and 19 half-centuries.
So that 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’s 39.39% of his innings.
Since then he’s 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 South Africa’s dressingroom 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 South Africa’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’s plenty in that name‚ too‚ just as there is in the Dr YS Rajashekhar 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.