Rob Houwing

Give Gazza's ways a chance

2011-11-23 10:10
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing

Perhaps some people misunderstood my critical appraisal of the South African Test side in the immediate aftermath of their failure to close out the home series against Australia and settle instead for another humdrum share of the spoils.

They accused me of asking more questions that providing answers - presumably seeking my recommendations for changes to the selection brew.

I didn’t offer any because, to be perfectly blunt, I am not especially inclined to, despite my stated frustration over another home series marked by under-achievement.

You don’t need me to tell you that Mark Boucher’s position, in particular, must be hanging by a relative thread: Gary Kirsten has well nigh admitted as much, and the wicketkeeper himself, a veteran of 141 Tests who has simply got to offer more with the bat, is not daft enough not to know this, either.

But my call was much more for all those within the existing squad to be prepared to embark on some serious introspection, in order to find solutions for South Africa’s all too glaring failure to win either matches or series consistently on their own terrain.

Sorry, I am not among those who may believe the introduction of a Rilee Rossouw, Dean Elgar, Thami Tsolekile, Heino Kuhn or even immediate re-instatement of a JP Duminy is going to be the spark that - voila! - suddenly triggers an era of imperious conquest by the Proteas.

Much more, I feel, the existing core members of the squad,  a plentiful bunch, need to sit down and very frankly thrash out among themselves why they still haven’t been able to really put their stamp on the Test-playing world despite a near-outrageous amount of talent and proven credentials and experience in the game’s most challenging arena.

In a nutshell, I am not asking them, in most instances, to question their existence or rights to Test berths: rather, they need to establish why they have been unable to bring a ruthlessness and, by extension, routine winning habit to the party after doing some very promising yards towards that intended state of affairs as many as three or four years ago.

Is this Proteas team - such a settled unit in terms of glowing individual credentials even if results simply do not reflect the vast potential of the collective - just going to “peter out” over the next couple of years, without properly doing justice to the gifts amidst their parts?

I’ll say it again: failure to beat Australia this summer, when all is said and done, was another bad result by my book, considering the transitional uncertainty and frailty that stalks the current Aussie vintage.

Chance missed? Oh, and then some.

Yet there are some mitigating circumstances, and they can’t be summarily brushed under the carpet.

We always suspected, for one thing, that the Proteas would be almost grotesquely underdone for the series considering the rather comical fact that the vast majority of them had had no first-class cricket at all since the final Test against India over the New Year period last summer.

Those fears simply came home to roost as South Africa played some bursts of cricket that see-sawed between high-class and occasionally lamentably incompetent.

Also to consider is how desperately little time new coach Kirsten and his lieutenants have actually had with their charges; he will have learnt an astonishing amount in a short time, no doubt, and be altogether better able to tweak, fine-tune and plug any problematic holes ahead of Sri Lanka’s visit next month.

Kirsten will stick pretty stoically for the time being to the formula that earned him great success with the Indian Test side: favouring continuity and stability. He’s just dropped extremely heavy hints in that regard, as has selection chief Andrew Hudson.

He will want to give the vast majority of the present resources another chance, after much deeper involvement in their preparation for the Lankan obligations ... and for such a vote of confidence, he will expect healthy returns.

So I’d be surprised if we unexpectedly see a big bag-shake in the weeks ahead.

Still, we are entitled to demand a pronounced upward performance curve for the remainder of the Test season, which also includes the first visit to New Zealand since 2003/04.

That is severely overdue, and Kirsten and Graeme Smith, among others, will know it.

South African cricket will know after Tillakaratne Dilshan and company have departed - thumped 3-0, ideally - whether it needs to defy its best instincts and significantly alter the fabric of the side to tackle current pace-setters England on their soil in the red-letter assignment next year.

Call me naive, but with Kirsten’s unflappable, India-proven slow-seep aid, I still believe the vast majority of the incumbent Proteas troops can and should get it right.

What did worry me a little was the sense I got of an all-smiles, all-pals-act between the sides after the Wanderers dust had settled, as if a mutually satisfying outcome had been achieved. (Quietly, I suspect the Aussies were tickled pink about getting off the hook and retaining their unbeaten modern record in South Africa.)

The series was played in good spirit and had plenty of exhilarating moments; I’m not questioning that.

But a part of me, I suppose, had hoped for just a bit more hurt and anger from a high-quality bunch of Proteas players still not producing to levels they can and to whom, just maybe, that old phrase “comfort zone” is in mild danger of taking root.

I hope Kirsten will at least think about that possibility as he really beds down in his position ...

Rob is Sport24's chief writer

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

Read more on:    rob houwing

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