Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Just winning the irritatingly
short series against Australia over the next few days, in which a draw at the
Wanderers is enough, would remove a particularly large monkey from South
That is obvious statistically as it would
represent the Proteas’ first home series success against these arch-enemies
since 1969/70, with the task proving a bridge too far in five subsequent, post-isolation
summers that have seen four Aussie triumphs and one shared series.
But there is arguably even more at stake
than beginning to restore the balance on that bilateral front: it is also high
time for Graeme Smith’s side to throw off the shackles of frustrating
inconsistency and demonstrate that they are genuinely capable of being an
all-conquering “machine” in the Test arena.
That prospect looked so rosy, remember, when
they knocked over the Aussies on their own turf for the first time, in heady
2008/09, following reasonably hot on the heels of also beating England in their
World domination, even considering the
frequent claims of India, seemed the Proteas’ for the taking ... but it hasn’t
happened, has it?
Instead of becoming a bullying, unrelentingly
successful force in the manner of a Steve Waugh-era Australia, South Africa’s
engine has fired with exasperating inconsistency since then.
It is as if they take their foot off the
throat of fallen prey every time they get into a promising position for a much
more all-embracing “kill”.
They have not subsequently managed to
string together successive victories in a single series since that iconic
campaign Down Under when an early triumph was achieved via back-to-back heroics
at Perth and Melbourne before the Aussies won back some pride in Sydney.
Even in beating the weak West Indies 2-0 in
the Caribbean in 2010 the middle Test of three was drawn, admittedly on a St
Kitts featherbed of note – and of course the Proteas have also failed to win
any of a trio of home series against fellow “super-league” opponents Australia,
England and India.
That is why the second-placed Proteas
currently remain seven ratings points behind top side England on the ICC
pecking order, and knowing that they must tackle them away again next year.
All this only adds to the urgency of Graeme
Smith’s side finally absorbing a series of sometimes painful lessons and
proving that they can, indeed, dominate matches and series regularly.
A glance at the Test rankings for players
certainly suggests the Proteas are just not punching routinely heavily enough,
for whatever the reason, as a collective.
They have Dale Steyn handsomely atop the
bowling list, with Morne Morkel at No 3, and in batting terms Jacques Kallis is
currently at No 2 with fellow-Proteas Graeme Smith (No 7) and Hashim Amla a
notch lower also cracking the top 10.
Current opponents Australia? Nobody at all
in the top 10 on the batting front, and just Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson
sneaking onto the bowling chart at positions nine and 10.
This Baggy Greens side certainly seems
there for the taking, after somehow managing to turn a healthy whiff of
follow-on enforcement at Newlands into a disastrous, ultimately emphatic
eight-wicket defeat in that extraordinary first Test.
It will be cause for ongoing bewilderment,
at the very least, in their ranks, and no doubt also a source of unease which
ought to be exploitable in Johannesburg by the noses-in-front Proteas.
With a bit of luck, Smith and company will
be under no illusions about the imperfection of their first-Test win -- however
muscular their fourth-innings chase, masterminded by the captain himself and
Hashim Amla, turned out to be.
At the Wanderers over the next five days,
the Proteas must show us that the scent of blood only interests them, rather
than strangely repels them.
I believe that anything less than a
convincing, series-sealing draw at the Wanderers only drags South Africa quite
significantly backwards as a Test force.
One-all against these opponents, given
their current, rare shortcomings in world-class staffing and reasonably obvious
frailties in the psychological department, would be an unsatisfactory outcome
for the Proteas.
Yes, another one ...