SA mustn’t gloss over flaws
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town -
Honesty and perhaps even some tough love if necessary... that’s what is
needed in the Proteas’ post-mortem as they contemplate yet another
series that got away, to the justified chagrin of their supporters.
Video Highlights: Day 5
New coach Gary Kirsten
is emphatically not the type to resort to panic and pronounced
knee-jerk reaction to adversity, but with a bit of luck he will also not
be shy to spiritedly, comprehensively address lingering shortcomings in
South Africa’s Test-match cricket in the wake of Australia’s thrilling, series-sharing victory at the Wanderers on Monday.
believe “lingering” is very much the operative word, because the
charges he has inherited continue to fall conspicuously short in major
home series, and it is quite obviously seriously impeding their quest to
return to the top of the global pile.
That is four headline
series in a row now where the Proteas have either played second fiddle
or only drawn in their own habitat, so serious questions are fully
entitled to be asked by both fans and critics.
sequence started when Graeme Smith’s side arguably were seduced too much
by their own good press and bottle-clinking bonhomie after the
wonderful 2-1 triumph in Australia in 2008/09, and then didn’t “pitch”
in various respects for the immediate return series back home and
surrendered by the same margin.
That was a really disappointing
“better try to wriggle the cork back in the champagne bottle” moment, a
bit in line with the old joke we took pleasure in dishing up in these
parts - in reverse - after South Africa’s legendary ODI chase against
the same foes in the “438” game.
Then they failed to see off England and India in successive series with 1-1 outcomes in 2009/10 and 2010/11.
now comes this one, which many rightly had viewed as a golden
opportunity to finally rip a tenacious monkey off the back by seeing off
the Aussies (ranked only fourth on the ICC ladder) on our soil for the
first time in post-isolation.
When South Africa eventually
prevailed by a handsome eight wickets in the rollercoaster ride that was
the Newlands first Test, and with only a highly lamentable lone further
battle to follow at the Bullring, circumstances just seemed so ripe for
the Proteas to break the bogey, didn’t they?
Australian cricket is in the midst of an often awkward, vulnerable
rebuilding phase after their extended all-conquering era, and there is a
case for saying it may be many years before so glorious another
opportunity comes along again to crack their shell.
failure to close out the series at the Wanderers, where so much was in
their favour to do so, seemingly sends out a clear signal: something is
still missing in a South African side that labours desperately to
achieve consistency and a killer touch in the five-day arena.
if they had achieved the series success (whether by winning or drawing
in Johannesburg), continued imperfections would have needed to be
acknowledged: let’s not forget that the Proteas came within a whisker of
following on before they battled back for the remarkable win at
But not getting over the series line anyway only makes
even more starkly apparent now the Proteas’ difficulty in becoming a
true machine in Tests in the manner of, say, the great West Indian side
of the 1980s or the Aussies of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
absolutely no doubt in my own mind that “should be doing better”
remains a very necessary element of any South African report card.
do they struggle to string together even two good performances on the
trot? Do they really have the mental and physical hunger to get to the
pinnacle and stay there?
Do they just not actually appreciate how
good they should be as a unit, given the various stellar individual
resources at their disposal?
Harsh? Hardly, I think: keep firmly
in mind that the nucleus of this particular Proteas side has been
together for a very long time.
The top seven batsmen in the
current line-up boast a weighty, combined tally of 603 Test appearances -
you wouldn’t necessarily have believed that had you watched their
fatally rushed and impatient first innings at Wanderers - whilst the
country also retains comfortably the best-performing fast bowler in the
format in Dale Steyn, backed up by the emerging menace offered by Morne Morkel and now the latest revelation Vernon Philander.
apologies to the traditional sign in the Chinese take-away shop,
“Please be patient, good food takes a little longer to prepare”, that
sort of plea doesn’t cut it any longer in terms of the national Test
cricket team: they’ve had time enough together yet simply can’t seem to
deliver on-field fare of a routinely lofty quality.
It is right
that we laud Australia for a massively gutsy fourth-innings effort to
win at the Wanderers, breaking some records in the process - their
achievement was so impressive that there is no special cause to curse
any clear-cut ineptitude or shortcoming by the opposition in the field
in this particular instance.
But the great merit of the Baggy
Greens’ effort is also not enough to stave off something that is all too
apparent: South African under-achievement at home has become a
dangerously entrenched phenomenon, not a fad.
Are they going to be humble and realistic enough to realise that?
We wait to see if there is truly constructive remedial action, whatever that may require ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing