Dr. Ali Bacher, the former South African captain, saw the first two Test matches at the Centurion and the Wanderers, Johannesburg. And the third at Newlands, Cape Town from his home at Johannesburg. “I have never seen a three-Test series in South Africa when the ball has deviated so much. All three pitches were the batsmen’s nightmare and the fast bowlers’ paradise. The Indian fast bowlers missed the edge of the bat by a quarter or half-inch many times on the fourth morning at Cape Town. They were unlucky. And I have never seen a more gutsy and determined South African team. They have made the country proud,” said Bacher summing up the three-Test series that concluded at the Newlands, Cape Town on Friday, January 14.
Excerpts from an interview:
It was a thrilling series all the way. How would you sum it up?
India came to South Africa after beating Australia twice in Australia and England in England once, and with four good fast bowlers. And fast bowlers generally excel on South African pitches. I think, before the series started, very few South Africans would have put their money on the home team winning the series. To be honest and no question about that. In these circumstances, this has been one of the gutsiest ever performances by a South African team. Man-for-man this South African team, the batters in particular, cannot compare with the likes of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers. They were the superstars. Yet this inexperienced South African batter showed guts and determination that I have never seen before from any South African team in the past. And so this country will be proud of this South African team. They never gave up and won the series 2-1 after going down in the first Test at the Centurion.
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The pitches were quite challenging for both teams?
All the three pitches — the Centurion, The Wanderers and Newlands — aided the fast bowlers. There was a lot of rain at the Centurion and Johannesburg. So I understand that the pitches there aided the fast bowlers. I don’t know why the pitch became difficult for batting at Cape Town. Some balls kept low and some went miles over the wicketkeeper. Batting was difficult on all three pitches.
Keegan Petersen emerged as a surprise package?
The hero of South Africa’s batting performance was Keegan Petersen (15 and 17 at the Centurion, 62 and 22 at the Wanderers and 72 and 82 at Cape Town). He had played only two Test matches (in the West Indies) before the start of this series, and he has played now only five. His technique is superb, his head is over the ball all the time. He never got flustered, He showed temperament. To me, he is the find of the series for South Africa and man of the series. He played unbelievably well and scored the most runs (276) on either side. He appeared like he has played for ten years and scored thousands of Test runs. Petersen has surprised all of us. Before the start of the series, I did not know much about him, as to who he was.
The South African team was able to focus in spite of off-the-field issues?
South African cricket off the field has been in turmoil on the administrative side. But the team showed extraordinary guts and determination facing one of the best fast bowling groups in the world, and on different pitches that aided fast bowling. This must rank as South Africa’s one of the best Test series win.
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The team took the field without fast bowler Anrich Nortje?
Nortje is quick, and he bowls at around 150 kmph. He is a very good bowler, and it was a big blow that he was ruled out before the start of the series. He was a big loss. And Quinton (de Kock); retired from Test cricket after Centurion. So South Africa had a great Test series without two of its key players. I cannot praise this team any less. They were the underdogs; no one gave them a chance to win the series. But they were calm and composed out there in the middle and won a Test series against one of the best all-round teams in the world that I have seen.
India found it difficult to defend totals around 200 in the fourth innings at Johannesburg and Cape Town?
On Friday (Jan 14) India’s fast bowlers were unlucky at Newlands. They were outstanding. So many times they beat the bat by half an inch, a quarter of an inch. Those half inches or quarter-inch misses would have probably taken the outside edge. To be honest, fortune was on South Africa’s side on the fourth day morning. But that’s cricket, that’s cricket. India’s bowlers were superb.
The bounce was different at all three venues? The Indian team believed that the bounce at the Centurion, over a five-day period itself, is different and also from the other venues?
Look, all the three pitches this time were very unlike normal South African pitches. They favoured the fast bowlers, in deviation of the seam, particularly in Johannesburg. Even in Cape Town. This was most unusual. In Australia, one gets hard pitches and even bounce. It was a batsmen’s nightmare this time in South Africa. There was always movement of the seam and variable bounce. I have never seen in a Test series in South Africa so many balls go over the wicketkeeper and jumping by miles. This could have been because of the heavy rain in these parts. But Cape Town normally is a good pitch with even bounce and hot weather. But as it turned out there were good fast bowlers and the pitch became a real nightmare for the batters.
Rishabh Pant scored a century when the others could not cope with the South African attack at Newlands?
Rishabh’s century was a special one. It was a pleasure to watch him bat; the left-hander is a special talent.
It was a low scoring series and the captains must have released the futility of fielding a finger spinner on such pitches? Keshav Maharaj (left arm spinner) and Ravichandran Ashwin (right hand off spinner) did not get to bowl on a real fourth or fifth day pitch?
Ashwin hardly bowled. I have never seen a Test series in South Africa when the spinners had had such little impact. The two spinners hardly bowled.
Hugh Tayfield, the off-spinner took 92 wickets in South Africa between 1949 and 1958?
I played Tayfield at the end of his career. He was the best spinner this country has ever had. He did not turn the ball much, but he was very accurate. There was a famous Test match in the 1956-57 series against Australia when he took nine second-innings wickets at the Wanderers. He went to Australia in the early 1950s. The then South African team was full of newcomers, and he took 30 wickets in that five-Test series. He never gave up, and he always believed he can get out any batsman. He was the greatest trier I have ever seen. He had a big heart.
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