“We didn’t; pick this ball!” Suddenly, just as the South African chase was about to begin, R Ashwin said those words and started to walk towards the umpires. In the background, ViratKohli started to walk too, saying, “We were never given the option to pick the ball”. The umpires agreed and called the fourth umpire to come over with the box set of the new balls.
The convention is that the fielding team gets to pick a ball from a box of dozen balls. It appears that R Ashwin is the ball-picker for India. Even as one of his teammates said something (not clear what he said,) Ashwin quickly said in Hindi, “bolna mat!” (Don’t say) and one assumes it meant don’t say that to the umpire.
Both Kohli and Ashwin started to hold the ball on the seam, much like a fast bowler and flipped it up. One by one, they went through a few balls. By this time Mohammad Siraj and Shardul Thakur too had joined in the ball hunt. And eventually, Ashwin was happy with one ball and also gave it to Siraj to try flipping it over.
On air, even as Mike Haysman kept muttering “this is bizarre”, Shaun Pollock, former South African pacer, said, “this is for deep cricket enthusiasts”. And Pollock explained how it’s about the feel in the hands, and also added that his team-mate Jacques Kallis used to make fun of the fast bowlers who were so fussy about the new ball. “Let me tell you we always picked a good lemon particularly in South Africa,” when Haysman pressed him about how many times he had picked a bad ball.
India set South Africa a target of 305-runs to win the first Test after their second innings folded for 174 run in the post-lunch session on the fourth day of the match, on Wednesday.