“Firstly, he needs to cut his hair. He doesn’t look like a sportsperson to me. Image is his problem. The game is already too hard. They are normally not the best team men too. It’s this kind of individuals that give a team a bad name or image.”
These were the words spoken by former South Africa pace bowler Fanie de Villiers during Ishant Sharma’s lean patch in 2013. Ishant had a poor run in both Tests and ODIs and his career was starting to taper off.
However, in the recent series against Sri Lanka, the world witnessed a new Ishant where he picked up 13 wickets in three Tests to give India a magnificent series win. Bowling with aggression, Ishant gave aggressive send-offs to the Sri Lankan batsmen and bowled with plenty of hostilities. During his clash with Dhammika Prasad in the third Test, Ishant was handed a one-match ban and this will sideline him for the first match against South African starting November 5 in Mohali.
Commenting on the ban, de Villiers told Mid-Day that although he did not take Ishant’s side often, he felt “sorry” for him this time around.
“Not often do I take Ishant’s side but I feel sorry for him this time. Send-offs are good for cricket. I am very happy the guys do it. I know you get fined, but it lifts everyone in the team. The entire team feels better and that’s what happened to India (in Colombo). He bowled quite well. The challenge for every bowler is to control his temper and hopefully Ishant has learnt his lesson,” de Villiers said.
The former South Africa bowler also criticised the umpires for their muddled approach. “It’s silly that umpires get into intricacies like that. All I am concerned about is the example it sets to young players, but there is nothing wrong to be aggressive on the field and give a couple of send-offs ,” de Villiers said.
South Africa arrive in India consisting of a formidable batting line-up that has a mixture of class, consistency and calmness.
Faf du Plessis has not played a Test in India, but he is a proven customer in all conditions. Hashim Amla has accumulated a huge amount of runs in India. In six Tests, he has 823 runs at an average of 102.87. In the 2010 series, he had an average of 490 with the highest score of 253 not out. AB de Villiers has an average of 53.14 in the five Tests that he has played.
However, despite loads of experience in the middle order, the former pacer is worried about South Africa’s inexperienced opening slot.
“I am worried about the opening combination. Dean Elgar has just started his career. It’s important to have sound starts in the subcontinent so that the middle order can put pressure on spinners. If they don’t give good starts, it will put pressure on the likes of Amla, AB, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy, who are key players. The new guys will take some time to settle down,” De Villiers said.
With South Africa entering into a transition period without the likes of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, De Villiers says the pressure will be taken off if the openers bat out the first 20 overs and all the batsmen bat with discipline.
“Problem for South Africa is that there are too many guys trying to cement their places…openers, wicketkeeper and spinners. It’s not an ideal thing when you tour India,” De Villiers said.