Proteas caught in a spin

Pat Symcox (Supplied)
Pat Symcox (Supplied)

South Africa’s batsmen failed dismally during the third Test in Nagpur because they played spin worse than their opponents. The visitors’ mindset was totally wrong. Far too many shots were played too early and the old adage of “time at the crease makes it easier” was forgotten. Perhaps the problem lies in too much ODI and T20 cricket currently being played.

In bygone days, Test cricket was tough work. Pitches were not covered and learning to play on those tracks must have been a nightmare. Batsmen learned to play the ball late, to pick length early and to rotate the strike. While AB de Villiers is a cut above everyone else at present, even he will admit that he didn’t afford himself sufficient time at the crease.

Once upon a time those who played in Cape Town were more adept at playing spin. Those from PE coped better with the low and slow bounce. And Natal batsmen were effective when the ball bounced. When teams were selected, players were picked on specific ability.

With the dust having settled on the Nagpur pitch and the Proteas gearing up for the fourth and final Test match in Delhi, the cricket world is witnessing the dawn of a new Test era.

I’m a die-hard Test cricket fan to the core and love watching matches head into the fifth day. However, I also enjoy seeing wickets tumble and firmly believe that batsmen shouldn’t dominate to the point where bowlers are merely there for the former’s entertainment.

There was a whole heap of criticism when the Proteas were bowled out in Nagpur on a pitch that spun like crazy from day one. However, almost all of the criticism came from batsmen. Meanwhile, in the third Test between Australia and New Zealand, where batsmen made merry and bowlers toiled, I didn’t see anyone write or tweet that the pitch was sub-standard and should have been reported. I wonder why not. It smacks of double standards.

Never will I begrudge a spinner the time to bowl on a pitch that spins on the first morning. The Test in Nagpur was a fascinating one. It was as exciting and eventful as any T20 clash.

I played in South Africa through the 90s at Kingsmead in Durban and then for the Proteas around the different Test venues. As such, I’m qualified to speak on behalf of the spinners who played during that period. We drew the short end of the stick almost every time.

Spin was something that was seen as holding down an end, with the possibility of picking up a wicket or two, but generally not considered as a front-line option no matter how much lip-service was paid to it. In fact, the late Hansie Cronje even bowled some spin during a Test in Durban, while Paul Adams and I ended up carrying the drinks. What a disgrace that was!

In 1994, during the famous Sydney Test in which Fanie de Villiers took six wickets, I bowled almost unchanged at the other end to keep the score down. The figures are now distant memories, but of significance was the Adelaide Test the following week in which umpire Darrell Hair made many mistakes. Both Dave Rundle and I, who were the spinners on the tour, were not selected. Australia played two spinners, while Gary Kirsten ended up bowling spin for South Africa during that Test. We were gutted and even called a meeting to voice our unhappiness with the team manager at the time. Alas, nothing came of that meeting.

Such was the life of a South African spinner: in today, gone tomorrow. Robin Peterson saw his career go the same way. He was in and out and then dropped altogether. He always had to prove himself. Meanwhile, Nicky Boje won a Test series for the Proteas against India and yet was never a settled spinner in the side. He had to bat well in order to maintain his place.

Meanwhile, Adams burst on the Test scene in 1995 and was up there with the fastest bowlers to claim 100 Test wickets. But what happened to the man nicknamed Gogga and why didn’t he go on to become one of the highest wicket-takers in South African cricket?

I’m hoping the Test at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, which begins on Thursday, boasts the same kind of pitch. I feel South Africa will have learned something from the second innings of the third Test and it will transfer to their system in time. That can only be a positive for spinners still to arrive on the scene, so at to avoid suffering the same fate as those of the past.

Former South Africa international Pat Symcox played 20 Tests, took 37 wickets and scored 741 runs. He is a self-proclaimed cricket fanatic, struggling golfer and addicted writer.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
42% - 7746 votes
11% - 1960 votes
19% - 3538 votes
3% - 463 votes
1% - 169 votes
2% - 439 votes
5% - 908 votes
8% - 1533 votes
3% - 609 votes
Water sports
1% - 167 votes
American sports
1% - 217 votes
3% - 569 votes