India A tour to South Africa, 2013

India A look to make recce lessons count for bigger test

While the A tour has helped India's young cricketers, it's unlikely it will give the senior side any advantage when they tour South Africa later in the year

Firdose Moonda

August 15, 2013

Comments: 40 | Text size: A | A

Shikhar Dhawan is ecstatic after reaching his double-century, South Africa A v India A, tri-series, Pretoria, August 12, 2013
Shikhar Dhawan dominated bowlers during the A team tri-series but playing conditions later in the year may vary dramatically to challenge India's batsmen © Getty Images
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There was a moment during Pakistan's visit to South Africa earlier this year when Misbah-ul-Haq's eyes glazed over, his voice dropped and his shoulders slumped. It was not the instant his team was whitewashed in the Test series but about three weeks afterwards, when he had to explain why they had also lost the one-day series after fighting hard to lock it at 2-all. His reason was the same all summer and he seemed apologetic and even tired of saying it: the conditions were simply too difficult to adjust to.

It is a stereotype that South African pitches are to subcontinent batsmen what the moon is to people who prefer keeping their feet on the ground: uncomfortable. But it is also cliché that continues to be perpetuated by team after team who visit these shores and struggle, usually everywhere except Durban. India and Pakistan have only won two Tests in South Africa and Sri Lanka have won one. None of these teams have ever won a series here.

With that record, it makes sense that India, who will compete against the No.1 ranked Test side later in the year, have sent an advance party to glean some knowledge of conditions and practise in them beforehand. India A's squad included Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane, all of whom can be expected to bat again here later in the year.

They will stay on to play two unofficial Tests against South Africa A following the 50-over tri-series which they won. Whether they will take back any valuable information at all is questionable because those matches are being played on flat, winter tracks that will not resemble the surfaces the mace will be defended on come December.

The cynics will see it as a plot: South Africa are trying to lure their opponents into a false sense of security by making their batsmen believe run-scoring will be easy. They can't be blamed for seeing it that way. Vincent Barnes, high performance manager and coach of the A-side, is known for fighting talk against touring teams.

When Australia toured in late 2011, he said the practice game in Potchefstroom, played on a spicy wicket, was part of a plan to "rough up" the opposition. South Africa's coaching brains trust have also made it clear that after a first-class season last year where pitches were so lively they felt it gave bowlers an enhanced sense of how good they were, they want more challenging strips this time around. But that is not what they are trying to do here.

Barnes himself was disappointed with the lifelessness of the pitch for the four-day match between South Africa A and Australia A. That fixture was a high-scoring draw in which David Warner earned his Ashes recall with 193, Glenn Maxwell made a case for Test selection with an unbeaten 155, Dean Elgar scored 268 to make a case to keep his Test place and Thami Tsolekile's 159 would have put him back in the national selectors' minds. There were only 18 wickets taken in two-and-a-half innings and neither attack managed to bowl the other line-up out.

The second match, which was played in Rustenburg, took place on what offspinner Simon Harmer described as a "good four-day wicket" because it deteriorated enough to bring the spinners into play. South Africa A won that match after Harmer took 8 for 87. While Barnes would not want a turning track against India but he would like something with a bit more bounce, which would be difficult to get at this time of year.

Up-country, it is dry throughout the winter and the lack of moisture makes for road-resembling pitches. For any life, cricket should be played at the coast. Durban would have been the most likely venue, with a tropical climate that is almost unaffected by the cold the rest of the country is gripped in.

Last year, South Africa A hosted Sri Lanka A there and bowlers had more success. Ryan McLaren led the wicket-tally with 11 wickets while Kosala Kulasekera also enjoyed conditions with six scalps in the series. This year, however, the A matches were not played in Durban for financial reasons.

Cricket South Africa have a partnership with the High Performance Centre in Pretoria, from where they also run their academy. The A-team can camp there without incurring much cost although both touring teams would have had to be put up at hotels. The cost-saving would be minimal but all teams would have benefited from the facilities in Pretoria, which are considered world-class. Zambia and Argentina's football squads have set up bases there in the past.

Corrie van Zyl, the former national coach, heads activities at the Centre and his passion for developing it into a go-to place for cricket coaching is obvious. In his address after the final, van Zyl was sincere in thanking every member from the change-room attendant to the scorers for working on the A tournament. He said all the teams had been able to learn from each other and revealed the triangular tournament would become an annual event which will be played in Australia next year.

Perhaps that was the only point of it, after all. The three boards already have other interests together such as their shareholding in the Champions League T20 and this could be a furthering of that relationship. As it stands, the A-team tournament is not a money-making venture. The games are not televised and its purpose is to foster competition and expose players to counterparts of a similar calibre: those who have dabbled in or are ready to make the step up to international cricket.

But that should not be confused with what India A's purpose to South Africa was: preparation for their upcoming tour. At least Pujara knows that. He said he expects a "huge difference" in conditions but that India A could learn about things like the weather instead. Perhaps someone should inform him that the weather, too, will be vastly different. After all, it will be summer in South Africa then.

Or perhaps, India A are hopeful their mission can still be fulfilled in the four-day matches. Justin Ontong, the South Africa A captain, joked that he would ask the groundsman to leave some grass on the pitch for the unofficial Tests but whether that would result in surfaces which foster a more even competition between bat and ball cannot be guaranteed.

Seasonal challenges may simply not sustain that. As a result, while there is a lot of merit in doing a recce trip, it's unlikely it will give India any advantage when they return for the real deal.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by   on (August 18, 2013, 5:16 GMT)

Having stayed in South Africa for 3 years, I agree with the assessment in the article. However Asian and African teams win and loss in their minds. The Indian team did extremely well in Australia, England and South Africa during 2007 - 2010 and almost same team struggled in 2011-2012 in Australia and England. A big similarity between Indian and SA teams is that they are unpredictable and mind plays over capability. I would see this tour more of a confidence booster for the well blend Indians. They have the ability, its all about right frame of mind which is expected from this tour!

Posted by ramli on (August 17, 2013, 12:35 GMT)

Why should one be always pessimistic? ... Test cricket is formidable anywhere ... even more in SA ... this tour would enhance the self-belief of young batsmen and bowlers certainly ... which in turn will be very helpful when the senior team visits here later with some of the same young ones

Posted by deoshatwar on (August 17, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

Thoughtful article for sure. All said, this tour will give team India at least some confidence; which is more than enough. Most of the problems for sub-continental teams arise in South African conditions from lack of confidence. The only danger being - will this tour plant seeds of doubt in Indian batsmen's minds that they were good with these bowlers but will they be up for an attack that comprises Dale, Vernon, and Morne. First session of Indian betting will set up the tone for the series come October.

Posted by   on (August 17, 2013, 8:41 GMT)

@cpt.meanster you really ought to calm down,SA pitches are depended on the kind of weather we have during the summer durban will have bounce and spin so rest assured the indians will compete there..!ANYWAY we both know who has a superior test side

Posted by GRVJPR on (August 17, 2013, 7:55 GMT)

If this is a strategy of south africa then I can only laugh at them. They are spoiling their own upcomingcricketers by playing on flat tracks. Anyway there is no one of international quality left, after kallis, in that squad.

Posted by GRVJPR on (August 17, 2013, 7:53 GMT)

@ Ramakrishnan Venkatasubramanian you obviously think that Indians don't have brains and they will be easily lured into false sense of security. What happened last time? Why south africa surrendered in second test at durban (all out 70) and was on met in 3rd test. They were saved by a crucial toss in first test where conditions were too much in favor of south africa in 1st innings. In the second innings India scored almost 500 runs despite being behind in game by some margin. If indians can protect their wickets against steyn, South africa will struggle again!

Posted by GRVJPR on (August 17, 2013, 7:47 GMT)

I would say what is the point of visiting those shores when our players won't get any idea about the conditions in december. i would suggest play practice games at mohali and make the pitch as spicy as possible. You can do all sorts of things. Cancelling A tour will also convey strong message to south african establishment that Indian team don't tour to distribute free money.

Posted by heartbreakerz on (August 17, 2013, 6:57 GMT)

it's gonna be another one-sided series with india getting whitewashed by d Proteas

Posted by   on (August 17, 2013, 5:58 GMT)

Irrespective of the conditions, this 'A' tour will definetely help the touring indians in terms of playing abroad[esp for the first timers] bcos psycologically u r bound to be tentative when u play/visit places away from ur motherland. how good they use this trip is up to them, now that they have got fletcher[senior coach] accompanying them, should soothe some nerves.

Posted by   on (August 17, 2013, 5:05 GMT)

It is indeed a plot hatched by South Africa to lure the Indians into a false sense of security , by offering docile pitches and mediocre bowlers . Once the seniors visit SA, the pitches will be spiced up and India will have to face bowlers like Steyn , Morkel and Philander , all of whom know how to use the conditions to their advantage . Flashy batting is not the answer in SA and the Indians will have to develop patience to overcome the conditions . May be an interaction of the senior team with masters like Dravid and Laxman will teach them about the virtues of battling it out . Any way , my best wishes ti India .

Posted by pulkit10 on (August 16, 2013, 21:36 GMT)

That's just how winter wickets are in most places - flat. Zimbabwe had it the same way though they were also a little too low on the bounce which made it difficult to rack up big scores (as seen in the recently concluded series). Not South Africa's fault for being in the Southern hemisphere.

I think the point to this series was to get fringe players some valuable experience of playing quality opposition away from home. That's the way both CA and BCCI approached it. Next year will be similar and even if it doesn't give you an exact idea of what conditions will be like, the experience in itself is invaluable.

More than the spiced up pitches in the summer, it'll be the quality of the attack that'll test the batsmen. Steyn, Philander and Morkel form the best attack in the world and it certainly won't be easy to tame them. Looking forward to a contest between Dhawan and Steyn! Fearless batter vs. a fearless bowler.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 12:26 GMT)

If india want to score runs here they will have to leave well. That's what Tendulkar did the last time they played in SA. If Indian batters are going to play like they do in India they are going to have a hard time here. If SA prepare green wickets is put my money on SA batters to handle the Indian bowlers better than the Indian players do the SA bowling. Last time kingsmead was not that quick. Newlands can be a handful as well as wonderers. It all depends on the way the track is prepared. If newlands is green then stey and philander are going to be a handful. First innings score would not be more than 300 if sa bats first and 200 if india bats first.

Posted by Katey on (August 16, 2013, 10:06 GMT)

The three main cricket grounds in SA are in three totally different climatic and geographical areas. Cape Town-Newlands is in a winter rainfall region (Mediterranean climate for those of you interested in the technical term), and also low-lying. I used to live within 10 minutes walk of the grounds and the soil was very sandy - difficult to garden. In winter it is wet and cold, summer is dry and warm. Durban-Kingsmeade is in a subtropical summer rainfall area, so summers are hot and humid, winters mild and dryish but not really dry, and because it's coastal there's no frost. Johannesburg-Wanderers is high altitude (c. 6000 ft) and summer rainfall. Summer is hot and the humidity depends on how much rain it's had, winter is cold, frosty and bone dry. These three places provide very different tracks for cricket.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 10:05 GMT)

Very good article by firdose here..South africa will not make d same mistake which india did before england came to india for the test series.India allowed players such as joe root to get acclimaise to the conditions which england used later on in defeating india in der own backyard..So giviing india a to play on flat tracks lyk india is a good strategy.I am eagerly waiting for the tour and i think south africa will win 2-0 with one match as a draw..

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 9:46 GMT)

Indian bowlers have always done well in SA. This time too it won't be any different. The swing of Bhuvaneshwar can easily trouble the likes of Smith and Peterson. Ab de Villiers will always give you chances since he is the attacking type. Jaques Kallis is now injury prone and would definitely come good in one test match- thats it. The only stumbling block would be Hashim Amla. They need to devise a plan for him. The South Africans will be vary of preparing seaming tracks as it may spell the doom of their own batsmen. Plus India somehow needs to thwart the new ball spell. Once the shine is gone, South Africans are not good at reverse swing. The recent series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan had demonstrated this fact. As soon as the South Africans were not able to make enough dent with the new ball, the likes of Younis Khan, Sangakkara, Samaraweera , were able to capitalize. Someone like Pujara or even Dhoni (2nd new ball)can take up the job of grafting and tiring the SA bowlers.

Posted by Sir_Ivor on (August 16, 2013, 8:24 GMT)

The Tests are to be played at the Kingsmead Durban,Newlands Capetown and the Wanderers at Johannesberg. Kingsmead will be green and full of bounce with India just barely ready.Newlands will be more like Indian wickets and will help spin as well. Wanderers will come after the team has settled down and could be a great test.The first two days could be pacy and bouncy but after that there will be runs as well. What the BCCI needs to do is to send the team 2 weeks in advance to one of these places and practice on a bouncy track. This could be organised under some private arrangement based on goodwill.Even if Lorgat cannot help out I think, someone else could based on mutual goodwill.There are many influential Indians in South Africa who should be contacted. South Africa do have a superb batting line-up. But one never knows what a young bowling attack can do. I remember a young Srinath, Prasad and Prabhakar were very effective in those conditions.Kumble and Shastri too were. A close series.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 7:36 GMT)

contd...getting familiar with the atmospherics etc. The last time they got to play the first Test soon after landing and were beaten black and blue. This time I feel that though South Africa are the No 1 side, the Indians will not be as much in awe of them mostly because they know almost the entire SA team because of their playing in the IPL. Indians do best when they have settled down and when there is no overt hostility and abuse as they find Down Under. That apart the Indian team could actually match the South Africans with their very talented young team that includes their pace bowlers. Bhuvaneshwar or Panday or Mohit Sharma could match Philander and Yadav Ishant and Aaron could be pretty potent on a green top bouncy wicket. So I feel that this series will be well matched and combative whatever England supporters might think having been beaten by South Africa at home 2-0. The games are slated for pitches which are sporting where the Toss will have a big impact.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 7:32 GMT)

Why do Indian supporters always see the negative in any post? there is a reason why the wickets is not lively. Its winter over here. If India wants to change their culture have some wickets in India that is fast bowler friendly. Why have wickets where a player can score 300 plus easily. playing a couple of games in helpful conditions will not make you able to play well in those conditions. The wickets are not that helpful also. The SA batsmen scores runs and fight it out in the middle when things gets tough. That's why its called test matches. to test your skills. Otherwise go and play T20 where its a road and you just swing and hope for the best.

Posted by ODI_BestFormOfCricket on (August 16, 2013, 5:26 GMT)

put couple of thousands of crore to prepare green pitch in india

Posted by sony_sr on (August 16, 2013, 5:19 GMT)

Main purpose of this tour is not to get used to the conditions but see how our next generation players handle bowlers like aboutt, de lang, pat commins, ... and finalize of the line up for upcoming tour. basically this is a selection trial for next generation indian team.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 5:06 GMT)

Indian team can practice at Lahli. India's South Africa.

Posted by yoogi on (August 16, 2013, 4:33 GMT)

The big part of the conditions is weather and that will change dramattically over 2 months and no one can compensate for that.

Posted by Neela80 on (August 16, 2013, 3:05 GMT)

The BCCI should try to build an Indoor Stadium, which can simulate Weather and Pitch Conditions of other countries and ask MSD and his boys to spend considerable time in it. After all they are the richest board.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 2:48 GMT)

Author said: "The cynics will see it as a plot: South Africa are trying to lure their opponents into a false sense of security by making their batsmen believe run-scoring will be easy. They can't be blamed for seeing it that way."

The Tri-Series involved both India ans Australia as opponents; and both will be sending their regular teams on official tours to South Africa, soon. So, how can one blame the "cynics"?. Right!

Of course, it has become a regular ploy by all countries! So, don't blame South Africa.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 2:43 GMT)

@TheUltimateTruth. Agree with you. BCCI has the resources. At Dharmasala, one can get even the swinging environment naturally, for at least in the mornings and, sometime in late evenings too. As you said,it will help both the batsmen and bowlers to adjust to what they can expect during South Africa tour faster and relative ease.

Posted by winlotus on (August 16, 2013, 2:28 GMT)

Let the pitches of SA change on seasons.Indians are generally good at playing spin.But if you are good and comfortable against pace and short pitch balls then you can play in any foreign team accordingly.

Posted by TheUltimateTruth on (August 16, 2013, 0:53 GMT)

How difficult would it be for India to prepare a couple of green, bouncy pitches in India and organize India Blue vs India Green matches? The likes of Kohli, Tendulkar, Dhoni, Jadeja, and Ashwin would benefit from it. So would the bowlers like Bhuvi, Umesh, Zaheer, and Ishant.

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 0:29 GMT)

Why can't India go and stay in any decent place in S.A. where they can mange to get a spicy wicket, at least 10 days in advance, and practice against their own best bowlers, to get a feel for the TRUE conditions, rather than being lulled into a false sense of confidence by playing the "Indian Type" of pitches "officially arranged by S.A Cricket authorities? Can't they "afford" it?

I will say the same to Australia too. They also have to tour S.A with their senior team later, after India tour is over?

Posted by TheBigBoodha on (August 15, 2013, 23:49 GMT)

India and SA deserve each other. India trots out endless dust bowls for their spinners while in recent years most SA pitches look like a lawn bowling green. Strangely, this has coincided with the arrival or Morkel and Steyn and the fact that SA have the worst spinning stocks of any major cricketing nation. All a coincidence of course.

India will get slaughtered if they lose the toss, but might be passable if they win the toss and bat second.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 15, 2013, 21:20 GMT)

This article brims with over-confidence and a bit of arrogance. Fair enough, no Asian team has won a test series against SA in SA. Having said that, as an Indian supporter, I know very well that SA have NOT won any test series in INDIA for more than a decade. Their last series win in India came in the late 90s I think, when Allan Donald proved a handful to the Indian batsmen. Since then, too many losses and draws is all that they could muster travelling to India. I guess a drawn series is better than a loss ? Not exactly. Because according to me, a tie is as good as not playing any game. A win or a loss is what determines bragging rights. At this juncture, SA and India are similar in the sense, both of them haven't beaten each other away from home in a long time; the only difference being India have never won in SA. I strongly feel, this current Indian team is more than capable of upstaging SA at home this year. It's all about mental toughness and self belief; both of which they have.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 15, 2013, 21:07 GMT)

Go on and prepare some grasslands that masquerade as cricket pitches. Who cares ? If SA think they are better than India, then they only need to prepare good cricket wickets with something in it for everyone. Over the course of 5 days, the better team almost always emerges victorious. If they don't, well what goes around, comes around. They will definitely have to put up with some bunsens the next time they are in India for a test series. We all know what happens to teams from SA, AUS, and ENG most of the time on turning pitches with the recent England series being a one off exception. It ceases to even go to day 3 in such conditions. I am sure SA will remember the 2nd test in Kolkata from 2010 where they collapsed by an innings. We don't need to have such repeats for either teams home and away.

Posted by mk49_van on (August 15, 2013, 20:35 GMT)

Shame on Cricket SA, and frankly there should be penalties for this sort of behavior. Why bother with such tours if players cannot improve their skills and play instead on flat boring tracks?

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 20:26 GMT)

Good article. Perhaps A team tours should be about A teams rather than pre-tour warm ups. It makes a mockery of the concept of A teams - to give up and coming players experience at a higher level. Or should all national teams pre-tour in the guise of A teams for all tours? Guys like Ontong and van Jaarsveld are unlikely to ever make the test side but keep being included in the A side. Surely younger players deserve more opportunity, even from a captaincy point of view. U19 tours seem a complete waste of time given that these players are yet to be competitive at domestic level. Perhaps A team matches should be televised just as local domestic matches are.

Posted by SandipManjrekar on (August 15, 2013, 19:10 GMT)

May this recce trip won't count much for IND to face the Litmus test this winter against world no. 1 Test Rank Team. But this will make reassessment for the selectors about their strategies. For young IND cricketers, this tour would be a step stone for their near future. This team will be likely more or same for the coming winter in SA. They are playing as a unit for a considerable period. It is necessary for them to work against best team with gaining different experiences in ENG, WI, ZIM & SA. Proteas have stronghold in Test whereas IND have in Limited over. The young guns are aware of the current & future scenario. But the home team would know the difference between underestimation, dependency & complacency. The last 2 tours cost them with some injuries to main players & reserves were unable to fill their shoes.

Posted by Srini_Chennai on (August 15, 2013, 18:30 GMT)

Firdose, sub-continental teams find as hard to adjust to the conditions in SA as SA find in SL. Everybody saw how the SA batsmen were dancing to the tunes of Herath & co. I'm sure with the reasonably settled squad, India will do far better than they did in their last 2 overseas tour. I'm also sure that when SA visits India next time, they wouldn't be served a flat track. The pitch will take turn and bounce from day 1. Lets wait and watch. For Dec series, SA is the favorite but the series will be lot closer than you might think it will be.

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 17:59 GMT)

Ok... I may be ignorant on this. How difficult will it be with all the money that the BCCI has to create a super large indoor practice facility with adjustable temperature and humidity conditions where you can experiment with different pitch surfaces and practice on that? Why cry booohooo about how SA is purposefully not providing the pitches similar to what will be the real deal later in the main tour?

Posted by Ramchi on (August 15, 2013, 17:17 GMT)

Firdose Moonda : Great analysis on the pitches. One of the fundamental problems with past touring teams has been the "Mental Adjustment" to playing in a foreign country. This core group of probable India players will have a better time adjusting to foreign conditions,even if it is Summer and that in itself is worth in gold.

Familiarity of playing with/against foreign players in IPL has enabled the current Indian team to play fearlessly in Champions trophy. Familiarity of playing in foreign countries will remove the pitch-condition-environment fear as it will enable them to build new habits in foreign environments. Isn't that what experience is ultimately ?

Posted by Ninety9 on (August 15, 2013, 17:14 GMT)

The author does not take into account the confidence and momentum that the Indian batsmen might get out of the A tour. In cricket, these two attributes can negate external circumstances and lead to match-winning performances.

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