No driving maul for Proteas

Not many people saw that coming! Five specialist batsmen and five specialist bowlers, including two spinners! And it was one of the batsmen who did most of the damage with 4-22 as India, after winning the toss, were bowled out for 201. It’s all a bit too extraordinary, all a bit of a blur.

Not many people saw Morne Morkel failing his match-day fitness test, either, whereas it’s been obvious for days that J-P Duminy wasn’t going to recover in time to play. So there were some decisions to be made, and quickly.

The composition of the final starting XI represented the single biggest change of selection strategy South Africa has made in the last 24 years. The policy of selecting a seventh specialist batsman wasn’t just compromised down to six, but blown out of the water. Test teams just don’t bat their wicket keeper at number six anymore. It isn’t done. Especially if he’s playing only his second Test match. But Dane Vilas is 30-years-old and a big boy. He was given the responsibility and was happy to take it.

South Africa juust don’t play two specialist spinners – they just don’t. It’s been tried less than half a dozen times since Pat Symcox and Clive Eksteen were given a Test match together against Sri Lanka in 1993, but always quickly abandoned. The second spinner hardly bowled, anyway.

But ‘Steady Eddie’ Simon Harmer was paired with the riskier but more attacking Imran Tahir despite the Indian batsmen making no secret of the fact that they do not rate the veteran leg-spinner and can read his variations with little difficulty. The element of surprise was brilliant which may have been why Dean Elgar was able to slip under the radar and destroy the middle order. How much work and research did the Indians do on the left armer? We can’t be sure, but it wouldn’t have been much.

When Elgar describes himself as bowling “pies”, he isn’t being self-deprecating. That’s not his style. He’s trying to convince batsmen that he really is harmless. With Harmer and Tahir waiting to bowl the majority of the spin overs, Elgar knew his chance would be brief. He attacked for all he was worth, giving the ball every ounce of rip he could impart, tossing it up and landing it perfectly. Don’t be fooled, it was no fluke. Elgar hasn’t bowled pies since he was at school. It was brilliant, intelligent bowling.

Now for the batting…and the top-five gamble.

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