Pune turner doesn't have to be bad news for Proteas
The good news for South Africa’s men’s Test squad in India is that they could get most of the weekend off.
The bad news is that‚ if they do‚ the pitch in Pune — where the second match of their series against India starts on Thursday — will have been true to its history.
But there’s more good news: the same history says if that happens its the visitors who will be smiling.
The only other Test at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune‚ in February 2017‚ when Australia were India’s opponents‚ ended inside three days.
Spinners bowled 196.5 of the 255.5 overs — more than three-quarters — and took 32 of the 40 wickets.
And Australia won. Properly: by 333 runs. Steve O’Keefe took 6/35 in each innings and Nathan Lyon claimed 5/74 in the game.
Match referee Chris Broad branded the pitch “poor” in his report‚ and the ground has not seen Test cricket again.
It has since hosted two one-day internationals‚ in which teams dwindled to nine wickets down or were dismissed three times and 283/9 was the highest total.
But the lesson is that a pitch that offers severe turn isn’t necessarily an insurmountable obstacle for South Africa — particularly not a South Africa side that were able to deploy three slow-poisoners in the first Test in Visakhapatnam.
“We’ll see what conditions allow us to do when the game starts‚” one of those spinners‚ Senuran Muthusamy‚ said in Pune on Tuesday.
“I don’t think we’ll look too much into it beforehand. We’ll try adapt as well as possible.”
But he seemed happier to be in Pune‚ a famed university city in India’s west‚ than the sticky‚ sweaty south: “It’s cooler with not as much humidity as opposed to Visakhapatnam.”
Not that Faf du Plessis’s team were getting hung up on the weather‚ or whatever else India threw at them.
“We’re looking to enjoy being uncomfortable‚” Muthusamy said. “We know the subcontinent is uncomfortable — there’s no comfort zone here‚ no matter how you look at it.
“The guys are trying to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s the learning zone and the growing zone.”
As for himself: “I’ve tried to take in as much as I can over the past three weeks‚ and just improve and grow.”
Muthusamy‚ a 25-year-old left-arm spinner billed as a batting allrounder‚ would have learnt plenty in Vizag‚ where he made his debut.
India won that match by 203 runs on Sunday‚ but South Africa showed more batting backbone in their innings of 431 and 191 than they did in their last series in India‚ in November 2015‚ when they were bowled out for between 79 and 185 and consequently hammered 3-0.
“I really would have wanted to have won my first Test and made an impact with both bat and ball‚ but it wasn’t to be‚” Muthusamy said. “But I’ll take this start.”
He bowled 18 overs for returns of 1/63 — Virat Kohli is as notable a first Test wicket as can be had — and 0/20‚ and followed his 33 not out in the first innings with an unbeaten 49.
He batted at Nos. 8 and 7‚ and stood firm through three partnerships in each innings‚ notably a ninth-wicket stand of 91 with Dane Piedt in the second dig.
“We tried to stretch the partnership as long as possible‚” Muthusamy said of his and Piedt’s effort.
“But unfortunately the damage was done before that‚ where we lost a few too many quick wickets in the morning session and that nullified the resistance that was planned throughout the day.”
Muthusamy surely did enough to keep his place but he may want to consider O’Keefe’s experience as a cautionary tale.
The Pune game was the Malaysian-born‚ New South Wales left-arm spinner’s fifth Test‚ and his match figures of 12/70 are the best by a foreign spinner in India‚ the second-best there overall by a visiting bowler‚ and 11th on the Aussie all-time list.
But O’Keefe played only four more Tests — three in India‚ the other in Bangladesh‚ never taking more than three wickets a game — and hasn’t been seen at that level since September 2017.
Muthusamy has made a decent beginning to his career. It’s up to him to follow through.