'We'll force India out of their comfort zone' - Arthur
South Africa will stick to their aggressive bowling strategy of drawing India's heavyweight batting line-up out of the comfort zone, and will take a call on a second spin option only after having a look at the Kanpur pitch on Wednesday, revealed Mickey Arthur, the team's coach.
Arthur told Cricinfo that India would be committing a blunder if they prepared a pitch for the third Test that would crumble because "nobody in the world would want to face our bowlers at 150 kmph on a surface where the ball would go through the top from day four".
"We have our bases covered either way," Arthur said. "If India are gambling on working on a pitch that will crack, as media reports suggest, they might be in for a shock. We could be looking at uneven bounce then on the fourth and fifth days, and fast bowlers could prove quite a handful. But we have not closed out options yet, we also have another option in the left-arm spin of Robin Peterson."
Arthur, who is currently in Ahmedabad with the team, said he didn't believe that the forthcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) had distracted the Indian team. "Look, when things go badly, the media pin the blame somewhere. If things had gone well for India, this issue would not have come up at all."
Looking back on the second Test in Ahmedabad, where South Africa won by an innings and 90 runs, Arthur said Rahul Dravid's dismissal was the turning point on the first day when India were embarrassingly bowled for 76 runs, their second lowest total ever at home. Dravid lost his off stump to a Steyn special that pitched on middle and swerved just that bit to beat the bat.
"It was an unbelievable ball, wasn't it?" said Arthur. "It was really an important wicket because Rahul is the kind of batsman who could have stayed and thwarted us on this wicket. He has so often done that before, so when that wicket fell, we knew we were through."
Arthur said that some credit for the Ahmedabad win would go to a bowling strategy that was quickly revised after the first Test in Chennai ended in a dull draw.
"The mistake we committed in Chennai [where India replied with 627 to South Africa's 540] was we focused on swing," said Arthur. "After that game was over, we spent a lot of time with the bowlers to work out the best way forward. We realised we needed to be a lot more aggressive, we spoke about really hitting the deck at the right length, over after over. We talked about roughening up the Indian batsmen with short deliveries, and more importantly, the follow-up deliveries after the bouncers."
The key, or rather the theme of the revised strategy, Arthur revealed, was to get Indian batsmen out of their "traditional" comfort zone. "We realised after all those discussions that the crucial aspect was to force India's batsmen to play outside their comfort zone, which is the front foot. We decided we will never allow them to settle down in that forward zone, but instead force them back with aggressive bowling. Hit the deck, hit the deck in the right area - that is what we kept repeating to ourselves."
Arhtur admitted he was "happily surprised" by the pitch that was on offer at Motera, which contributed significantly to the South African gameplan. "I would say a lot of credit would go to Vincent Barnes [the assistant coach] because of the hard work he has put in with all the bowlers, especially Makhaya Ntini."
Even though Steyn walked away with five wickets, it was a pacy Ntini who forced the door open for South Africa with the wickets of opener Wasim Jaffer (9), VVS Laxman (3) and Sourav Ganguly (0) to leave India reeling at 30 for 4 in the first hour of the Test. "In fact, if you look back, Makhaya had started regaining his rhythm on the fourth day of the Chennai Test [when India lost their last eight wickets for 146 runs]. Here, he has finally got it just right with that special bounce that hits the top of off stump," said Arthur.
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo in Bangalore