South Africa missed five chances here helping India pile up a huge first-innings lead and it may cost them this crucial second Test.
The visitors were without their regular wicketkeeper Mark Boucher and had to slot in a new first slip because Graeme Smith’s finger injury meant he couldn’t be there. In restructuring the slip cordon, their fielding fell apart.
On day three, Jaques Kallis at first slip missed a sharp one that flew past his right. Smith dropped Amit Mishra as he went one-handed protecting his injured left hand and J.P. Duminy dived forward at gully but could not grasp an offering from V.V.S. Laxman.
The sequence, though, began the previous day when Smith and Boucher’s replacements, Duminy at first slip and A.B. de Villiers with the gloves, gave Virender Sehwag two ‘lives’.
Boucher holds the world record for most dismissals in Tests with 472 catches and 22 stumpings. Smith has taken 112 catches, a lot of them in slips. Theirs were large boots to field, but one would have expected better from the usually reliable South Africans. The catch Duminy missed from Sehwag off Morne Morkel on Day 2 was similar to a couple he spilled during slip catching practice at the High Court end of the ground before play on the first two days - low and to his right. Duminy looks an athlete but in the slips, it is more important to quickly move into a position from where you can puch the ball without diving.
That South Africa did not have much choice became apparent when they put 12th man Johan Botha at first slip on Tuesday, having banished Duminy to gully and some times to cover.
De Villiers has kept wickets in only two of the 57 Tests he has played before this but keeping against a spinner on an Indian wicket poses a different challenge. Surprisingly, quite a few Morkel deliveries burst through his gloves too and he looked surprised by the carry.
Teams need a bit of luck to win Tests. Asked if the missed chances would do that for India, V.V.S. Laxman chose to focus on the brilliant batting instead. “Missed catches are part and parcel of the game…We should not take credit away from the way we batted.”
South Africa’s batting consultant Kepler Wessels admitted that Smith and Boucher’s absence in the cordon proved crucial. “If you lose an experienced wicketkeeper and an experienced first slip, it’s always going be difficult. But you’ve got to adapt.”