On the eve of the second Test here, there was talk about Ravinder Jadeja making it to the playing XI. Many had speculated that he might take Ajinkya Rahane's place. Though, on the morning of the match it was Ravichandran Ashwin who was marked for drinks duty. It was a decision that took many by surprise, starting probably with Ashwin.
For starters, the off-spinner did have a quiet match in Johannesburg. Not only did he go wicket-less across both innings, Ashwin also struggled to make much of an impact on the South African batsmen, even when they were under the pump in the second innings.
This is not the first time that Dhoni has opted for Jadeja over a regular spinner. Against Australia earlier in the year, Jadeja had come in place of Pragyan Ojha when India played three spinners on pitches that had plenty on offer for the tweakers. This time around, the conditions too probably had a lot to do with Jadeja’s inclusion.
The wicket at Kingsmead has not only slowed over the years—it’s definitely not the grass-bank that greeted India back in 1996—it’s also gotten a lot drier. And in Jadeja, India have a more incisive spinner. He doesn’t possess the variety and guile of Ashwin but the Saurashtra all-rounder is certainly one you expect to be at the batsmen in all his spells. Jadeja also is a far more accurate spinner, preferring to bowl within his limitations.
The last time South Africa played a Test in Durban, they had been spun to defeat by Sri Lankan veteran Rangana Herath, a left-arm spinner who like Jadeja prides on his consistency, change of pace and subtle variations of pace and deviation. Interetsingly, South Africa too opted to go with a left-arm spinner with Robin Peterson replacing leg-spinner Imran Tahir. On the basis of what he dished up on Day One, Peterson did manage to concede fewer runs that what Tahir did in his first outing at the Wanderers. He also did create a couple of narrow shaves, especially with a couple of balls stopping on the batsmen.
With the pitch at Kingsmead expected to get drier and slower as the match progresses, India’s new lead spinner does have a great shot at coming into his own, as early as when South Africa bat sometime on Friday or Saturday. That is if he doesn’t suddenly decide to give his medium-pace a go.