The Proteas fall short
Sport24 columnist Colin Bryden (File)
Two years ago the South African Test team were on the verge of what promised to be a glorious era in the country’s cricket history after successive away series wins in England and Australia.GALLERY: Makhaya Ntini's farewell partyVIDEO: India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni overjoyed with Test draw
The only players missing from the core group of those successful teams are Neil McKenzie and Makhaya Ntini, whose international careers have run their natural course.
Yet instead of going on to greater heights, the Proteas have slipped backwards, failing to win three successive home series.
Having to settle for a share of the honours against India was an opportunity missed, especially after the crushing nature of the first Test win in Centurion.
In Test cricket terms, this was South Africa’s World Cup – the chance to gain a convincing series victory against the team ranked number one. Now, South Africa are struggling to hold on to second place on the rankings.
There is a natural break from Test action and it is time to take stock. A new coach will hopefully be appointed soon after the one-day World Cup and it is an opportunity to look afresh at the preparation and personnel of the Test team, without being hamstrung by the need for continuity, in itself a commendable quality but not always resulting in the best men being picked. It is hard to argue, for instance, that Ashwell Prince remains a better player than a resurgent JP Duminy but the selectors could hardly discard Prince, who was the man in possession and performing adequately.
For a side with the number one and number three bowlers in the world (Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel), there have been too many occasions when South Africa have failed lamentably to bowl out – or even get close to bowling out – the opposition in the final innings.
Steyn has been magnificent but Morkel inconsistent, while the back-up has been inadequate, particularly as at Newlands when Jacques Kallis cannot bowl. Two potential match-winning bowlers are not enough. South Africa can only look with envy at England, all of whose bowlers kept exerting pressure on Australia during the Ashes, even when changes had to be made during the series.
Imran Tahir has an opportunity to show that he can play a role as an attacking leg-spinner and Lonwabo Tsotsobe showed promise during the India series without being entirely convincing.
The new coach will need to analyse why the bowlers seem to run out of ideas if Steyn and Morkel cannot make early inroads and once the ball gets old. Are the latest scientific methods being used? Is there a Plan B if Plan A does not work?
Four of the top six batsmen pick themselves – Smith, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers – but Duminy must return and either Jacques Rudolph or the younger Dean Elgar must be in line to replace Alviro Petersen, who has not done enough to cement his place at the top of the order.
I have long been an admirer of Mark Boucher but I wonder whether now is not the time to be looking ahead. There is no obvious successor but AB de Villiers could do the job on a short term basis which would allow the selectors space to identify a young player to wean into the system.
As Graeme Smith said after the Newlands Test: “We need to see what aspects we can improve.“ Standing still is not the answer.
Colin Bryden is a former cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times and current editor of the Mutual & Federal South African Cricket Annual.Disclaimer:
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