Daryll Cullinan was part of a South African squad that tasted a fair bit of success in India. He knows how difficult is to acclimatize to conditions in India, especially during this time. The classy middle order batsman, who is now a broadcaster, has seen both South Africa and India go through the transition period. The 48-year-old talks to TOI in an exclusive interview from Kimberly about the challenges South Africa will be going to face in their 72-day tour.
South Africa’s Test record in the last decade has been phenomenal. What are their chances this time?
I can’t see South Africa beat India with their spin attack. I know in recent times, India’s ability to play spin has been a concern. In our time, we beat India with a four-pronged pace attack putting unrelenting pressure from both ends. But this Indian group is quite confident about handling short balls. I would still back the four-pronged pace attack with a spinner doing the holding job. We don’t have proven world class spinner. (Imran) Tahir doesn’t play too much Test cricket as he isn’t good enough in that format. He is quite good in shorter formats because he doesn’t have to deal with the pressure of bowling long spells. He is too inconsistent with men around the bat. Then you have newcomers like Simon Harmer and Dane Piedt. They aren’t going to bowl India out. For that to happen, India need to play very badly.
Who according to you is the underdog?
Surely, South Africa will be underdogs. They are coming out of winter and haven’t been fresh. De Villiers and Amla are experienced but to arrive in India straight from winters, you need experience. It’s not only about pitch conditions but overall weather conditions. To hit the ground running and confident against spinners, you need experience and I am not sure about the other guys.
Do you think South Africa can take 20 wickets in these conditions?
It’s got to come from Steyn and (Morne) Morkel. Steyn, in the recent times, is a very flat starter in terms of wickets. Morkel, in those conditions, has to be very precise with his line and length as he can provide pace to the Indian batsmen. The Indians would love to face (Vernon) Philander on those wickets. I think he isn’t fit enough to bowl long spells of late. I don’t think he can do even the holding job. Harmer is an orthodox off-spinner, Tahir isn’t suited for Tests. I don’t think they are going to bowl India out.
Should South Africa go with young Kagiso Rabada instead of Philander?
Absolutely. I would have a four-pronged pace attack. I think it’s a mistake South Africans have made — not to have an extra pace bowler in the squad. They should have four pacers in the eleven. When South Africa won the last Test in India (in Nagpur), they beat India with pace. I hope Steyn finds his rhythm when Tests start as it’s still a lot of time for Test matches.
What are your thoughts on South Africa’s new opening combination?
I don’t think it will be easy for them as India have a decent pace attack now. They should have good Test wickets with something in it for the pacers and turn on the fourth day. If they can knock down two, three wickets with new ball, it’s going to be a tough task for South Africa to recover. If I’m in the South African side and I see flat tracks, I would be very happy.
This will be a new experience for South Africa without Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis…
They will be missed surely. Amla’s presence will be very important. He has got a lot of patience and knows how to construct an innings. In India, you need plenty of it. You need to be very confident about facing those spinners with men around the bat. One area where South Africa batsmen lack is patience. Amla and De Villiers have ability to bat for long period but I am not too sure about Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy and they form the middle order.
What are your thoughts on this new Indian line-up?
I think it’s very important for India to get good starts and see off Steyn and Morkel. Vijay and Pujara did well in South Africa. They have been impressive. I am not sure about Dhawan’s ability to play short bowling but it won’t bother him too much in these conditions. Virat (Kohli) and (Ajinkya) Rahane are good all-round players. India’s top seven are very strong in those conditions. If they can keep Steyn out, they would have done half the job as he takes 60 per cent of wickets for South Africa.
Do you think reverse swing will be crucial for both sides?
Absolutely. Steyn had that memorable spell in Nagpur five years ago. Both teams will be keen to exploit it. I think (Umesh) Yadav bowls well with old ball as he has got the pace. Shami is the other one who is a good exponent of reverse swing. I am not sure about his fitness status. Ashwin will again be the key as he is the man who keeps the batsmen quiet and takes wickets too. It will eventually come down to what type of wickets India prefer. Amit Mishra is a very interesting character. When he is bowling well, he looks very threatening but when he isn’t, he goes for runs. He is a confidence bowler.
What are your thoughts on the five-bowler theory?
I absolutely agree with the five-bowler theory. I think a lot of sub-continental teams miss out in conditions like South Africa and Australia as because of conditions, they prefer an extra batsman. Five bowlers give more options of taking 20 wickets and that’s one thing Dhoni did when they toured South Africa last time. You back your batting line-up, including a wicketkeeper and if two of your five bowlers can contribute some runs, nothing like it.