Challenging conditions await India at Newlands
ALL SET: India's captain Virat Kohli (left) and South Africa's captain Faf du Plessis with the 2018 Freedom Series trophy in Cape Town on Wednesday. AFP
Just over seven years ago, at the Newlands here, South Africa bowled out Australia for a sorry 47 in the visitors' second innings and went on to win the Test by eight wickets despite conceding a massive 188-run lead.
Vernon Philander was the chief destructor, claiming 5/15 in seven overs. In fact, it isn't even his best effort here in an innings. And two days before the first of the three-Test series against India begins, the paceman gave a glimpse of what is going to be in store for India when the first match starts here at the Newlands Stadium on Friday.
The pitch for the opening Test, not surprisingly, has heavy grass covering and Philander, who knows the conditions at this venue like the back of his hand, felt it appeared flatter than the one on which Australia were blasted out for 47 in 2011. Ominous signs for sure for India but given their performance over the last two years, you would back this Indian team to tide over the pace challenge.
"I think that wicket was a little bit different to what this is looking like," emphasised Philander. "That one looked a lot flatter than this one. But like I said, sometimes you get to Newlands, there's a bit of grass on the wicket. Depends on the type of wind that blows here as well. You might get days when there is grass but it's absolutely flat. You get some days, the North-Western blows and the ball goes around the park when there's not much grass on there," he offered.
The fact that India have played at home or in similar conditions over the last two years wasn't lost on Philander and he was quick to rub it in, saying South Africa was going to be a "different ball game".
"They have played most of their games at home so it'll be interesting to see how they go in South Africa," he said here on Wednesday. " It's a totally different ball game. We're going to have to wait and see once they pass the first Test match."
Philander's record at Newlands is impressive, having taken 38 wickets in seven Tests at an average of 18.23 with his best figures being 9/99 in a match. But interestingly, India have never faced Philander here.
When pointed out about how India were visualising the conditions here and practising accordingly, Philander had a mild chuckle. "Yeah, you are obviously playing at Newlands and you probably are going to get nicked off more times than being bounced off. But look, there is a bit of grass on it and everybody is talking about having a bit of pace on it but at the end of the day, Newlands is going to be Newlands. You got to take 20 wickets and obviously score the runs," he remarked.
Philander also played down individual players, saying the in-form Virat Kohli is just one of the 10 Indian batsmen they will be looking to dismiss to win a Test match.
"We've got to control what we can, and that's to make sure we're in a good space. Our batters are obviously in good nick. We play the ball and not the man. We're going to respect the Indian seamers, but we've got to do what we've got to do. Hopefully, our batters can get the runs on the board.
"We are going to play bat and ball and not playing any names. We got to get Virat as to other nine Indian batsmen as well. I think we put our price obviously on bowling them out twice."
There is little doubt that India are going to get green-top wickets and Philander wasn't complaining about the turning pitches that they had to encounter in 2015 when they lost the series in India 0-3.
"Look, I think if we want to play the best cricket we have got to do that in every series we participate in," he stressed. "2015 was an obviously disappointing one, losing to them (India) 3-0. But look, at the end of the day we want to make sure we play our best cricket, and obviously being at home we want to make sure we deliver," he noted.