India stung by the tail once again

R Ashwin praised Vernon Philander (left) and Keshav Maharaj for their solid defensive technique. AFP

The sting from an oppositions tail has left India numb and clueless many times in the past. While they do possess a bowling attack potent enough to bowl out sides twice, there have been instances when they’ve rocked the top-order but have struggled to snap the tail.

Australia’s Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc frustrated them during the 2018-19 series Down Under while England’s Sam Curran played many a rescue act along with Adil Rashid and Stuart Broad in the 2018 series at Old Blighty. Getting the lower-order out cheaply has been a headache at times for India despite having one of the best all-round attacks in the world.

Saturday too witnessed such a rearguard action from South Africa that really dented their victory push. After knocking out the South African middle-order and reducing them to 139/7 in the 45th over a little after lunch, India looked primed to enforce the follow-on. But Keshav Maharaj slammed a measured 72 and Vernon Philander scored a doughty 44 not out, forging a dogged 109-run stand for the ninth wicket to frustrate the Indians. Together the duo batted for a mind-boggling 43.1 overs as India struggled to break their stand.

R Ashwin, who had bowled beautifully all morning with two exceptional balls to get rid of Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis, struggled to get the same bite on a wicket that flattened out in the afternoon sun. He kept tossing the ball up and was good with his line too but both Maharaj and Philander didn’t fall for the bait. They just kept presenting a dead bat and Ashwin found it hard to breach their defences.

Jadeja, while maintaining a tight line, varied his pace and at times opted for the faster one. But Maharaj and Philander were up for that challenge too, reading him well and thwarting all his dangers.

Counter attack

Skipper Virat Kohli took the new ball after 81 overs but Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma couldn’t find a way past Maharaj and Philander. Shami tried the short ball, the fuller one and even the yorker but the Protean duo countered them all too well. While India eventually bowled out South Africa for 275 to take a massive 326-run lead, the failure to run through the tail was once again a talking point.

Ashwin felt India did their job well on the day and credited Maharaj and Philander for their gutsy batting. “It is a good pitch and Philander batted beautifully,” said Ashwin. “His defensive technique to spin and fast bowling was wonderful. He played with soft hands and the bat face was slightly running down. I think the myth of tail-enders is over-stated and when he bats well, he bats well. Nowadays, nobody is really a muck with the bat. In our team also, everybody bats pretty well till No 11. One of the biggest problems with this South African team is that they bat till No 11, so you have to bowl at them like you bowl at the top order every single time, whoever walks in and that includes Rabada as well.”

India will just be hoping the tail doesn’t wag for a second time this game.

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