Cape Town – Perhaps it is necessary to make it clear at the
outset: South Africa didn’t use them as an excuse.
Outgoing captain Graeme Smith was clear and magnanimous,
after all, in his praise of the 2-1 Australian Test series victory, summing it
up fittingly: “It’s been a fighting series for us more than a well played
series ... Australia deserved their win.”
But the pitches offered for the home series?
For the most part, I am convinced they played a little too
much into Aussie hands during the course of a classically hard-fought set of
What’s more, I believe several senior Proteas personnel
would have loved to say as much, but they are aware sour grapes is a poor
phenomenon and they have overwhelmingly – at least thus far -- desisted.
For all the competitiveness and occasional flare-ups of animosity
over the last few weeks, there is also a pretty deep-rooted respect between
these powerful cricketing nations, and it is intact after the latest series.
The Proteas, in short, will take this setback on the chin.
At varying times, though, the surfaces played on have come
under harsh focus, and there is little doubt in my own mind that the Baggy
Greens, generally speaking, would have pleasurably and surprisingly found them
a tad more “Australian” in character than South African.
Smith was largely non-committal when grilled on that very
score at his emotion-charged final press conference as national captain at
Newlands on Wednesday evening (where the bilateral army of assembled scribes
gave him a tribute and protracted bout of applause).
Yet it was so easy to read between the lines as he first considered
his reply and then said: “I don’t know if this is the right place to get into
that now ... (but) there are some important things that need to be tightened a
“An environment needs to be created that can make success
for the (SA’s) players.”
Interestingly, in a television interview during the third
Test, the very recently retired great all-rounder Jacques Kallis had also made
reference to strips during the series not making things too suitable for South
Africa’s strengths – if you’re not going to create a hullabaloo from within the
team ranks, why not make use of an authoritative, loyal spokesperson from just
outside it, eh?
Discerning domestic enthusiasts will know that the Proteas’
bowlers -- most traditionally in modern times, with Dale Steyn and Vernon
Philander strongly to the fore – are at their best when there is just a little
(or even a bit more than that) deviation off the seam.
Not only are our bowlers most familiar with that “sideways”
hallmark, but South African batsmen are also well-versed in playing to combat
In Australia, pitches tend to be fast and bouncy but don’t
provide the same levels of nip: they are truer, so the flavour of the cricket
is crash, bang, wallop ... a la the way David Warner, the clear-cut man of the
series in South Africa, plays, with his swashbuckling blade.
The notable failure at any of Centurion (where the
spitefully up-and-down nature only had Aussie left-arm wrecker Mitchell Johnson
in his element), St George’s Park and Newlands was to tee up conditions
sparking seam movement and swing – and I mean conventional swing.
Instead what we more dominantly witnessed were conditions
conducive to reverse swing ... a characteristic that comes into play,
especially toward the back end of Tests, when surfaces are dry, pretty
grassless and abrasive.
It is deeply educative that well less than a year ago, this
Australian side lost an Ashes series 3-0 in England, where orthodox seam
movement is also common, before roaring back on Aussie turf, where the ball
comes through to the bat gun-barrel straight but briskly, to take the return
In short, South Africa needed to have tried harder to make
the local environment more “English”.
It has been successfully done before, and should be
revisited in some earnest.
At present, I am not convinced the all-important national
team and its brains trust are on the same song-sheet as the administrators and
ground-staff at the countrywide, well-entrenched Test grounds.
People say Smith’s rather sudden decision to quit was the
culmination of “a variety of factors”, and they may be right.
I fancy pitch preparation for the Australian series may have
been one string to that particular bow.
Bottom line: when at home you’ve got to make that advantage
Other teams do.
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