SA’s catch-up cricket problem
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
You don’t have to be an avid cricket
watcher to notice that the South African cricket team tends to take a
methodical approach to things. In their selections, they remain conservative
and when it comes to starting a series, they tend to take a while to get out of
the blocks.LIVE UPDATES: SA v Australia - Day 3
happened against England in 2012, when a slow day ended up in South Africa
notching up 637/2, declared. Then it happened in Australia with two drawn Tests and a win in the final.
New Zealand and Pakistan were rolled over when they visited these shores, but
when the Proteas went to the UAE last year, they stumbled in the first Test.
Last December, against India, they had to engineer a draw for the ages to
salvage the first Test.
Now, they are in a familiar position yet
again. Australia went from being 98-4 to being 397 all out. Two players took
the game away from South Africa and then came Mitchell Johnson. Now the Proteas
have an uphill battle ahead if they want to avoid the irksome trend of being
behind in a Test or, worse yet, falling behind in a Test series on home turf.
South Africa’s coach, Russell Domingo,
admitted that South Africa have been playing “catch-up” cricket over the last
year. Time and time again, though, South Africa’s resilience, be it an
individual or a group effort, has saved them time and time again. Over the past
year or so, they have proved that they are the number one team in the world
because they can bounce back, but it must be so frustrating to have a team
that’s so incredibly talented take their foot off the gas.
It’s a weird position to be. Sometimes South
Africa sometimes come across as being conservative, -especially when it comes
to squad selection. They stuck with what they knew for the series against
Australia, justifying it by saying this
is no time for “left-field” selections. Parnell was perhaps somewhat of a
surprise inclusion, but it soon became clear that he did have a little bit of
an X-factor about him. Not only does he
offer a left-arm option to create a bit of extra rough for a player like JP
Duminy, but he also has the ability to bowl proper gas. His control needs some
work, but for short bursts, he’d have been handy. Ryan McLaren, although a workhorse, doesn’t
offer anything that the side doesn’t already have. Sure, he can bowl a lot of
overs, but it doesn’t bring any different dynamic to the team. McLaren feels safe. He’s familiar, he works
hard, he thinks about the game, but he is nothing extraordinary.
It was a methodical decision. Even their
decision when to bowl first in the current Test, although weird, was backed up
by stats. Teams who have bowled first at
Centurion have won nine Tests with teams batting first winning five. The surface painted a different picture,
though. Although there certainly was a bit juice in it at first, it was mostly dry and slow. Early on, it
looked like the decision might be justified.
After having the Australians four down relatively quickly, the handbrake
just came off a little bit. Shaun Marsh, a player who wasn’t even meant to
play, and Steve Smith, set a record-fourth wicket stand at Centurion. The amount of balls Australia could leave
were astonishing. The visitors left 33%
of their balls, compared to the 16% South Africa managed to leave in the same
Johnson’s short bursts were fierce and
sometimes unplayable. Brutal pace and solid control put South Africa on the
back-foot. The impact those kinds of
spells have on a team’s psyche is brutal. There is very little South Africa
could have done about Johnson, no matter how much preparation they put in – and
they did prepare well – when you face bowling at that intensity, things become
But South Africa’s slow starts are still a
concern. Sure, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander were ill on day one and a bit
out of sorts, but why has it become such a continuous trend for the past few
Perhaps it’s a case of simply having gotten
into a bad habit and, perhaps, a little bit apathetic. That South Africa has
the talent and the mental strength to bounce back from defeats and knocks in
Test can’t be doubted. They have proven it over and over again. Whenever their
backs have been against the wall before, they have conquered and they have come
out on top. Whenever they have been doubted or questioned, they have answered
their doubters’ questions with two fingers up.
South Africa might yet again prove that
they have the resilience to bounce back and thrive under the pressure of having
their backs against the wall. But that doesn’t mean nobody should wonder why
they aren’t so completely ruthless right from the get-go.
Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about
soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have
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