Cape Town – Will the real South Africa finally stand up at
Nagpur from next Wednesday?
It’s a question much of the Test cricketing world may well
be asking of the No 1-ranked side as the labouring Proteas – their humour
presumably hardly helped by how often they’re being kept “indoors” – turn their
attention to game three of the four-Test series in India.
The last four months or so, encompassing four Test matches
on the Subcontinent, have been uncharacteristic, unproductive near-torture for
them, with successive rain-marred stalemates against Bangladesh, a loss in the
first Test against India on a Mohali dustbowl, and then another soggy draw in a
contest involving a miserly one day’s hostilities at Bangalore.
Even then, the Indians had already shifted themselves into a
position of considerable dominance ... enough to convince some local critics
that they were basically “robbed” of the chance to take an unassailable 2-0
It is almost as though some kind of Seasonal Affective
Disorder – the type of condition they say Britons get toward the end of their
lengthy winter – has taken a hold on the Proteas’ camp, because much of their
cricket has tended to match the accompanying weather.
Continuity of activity in the middle has understandably been
hard to come by – often something that Hashim Amla’s charges thrive on in the
five-day landscape – but the fact remains that South Africa have looked
alarmingly unlike the planet’s finest whenever the clouds have lifted enough to
allow Test combat in either series.
Bear in mind that against the Bangladeshis (a side they had
only ever previously beaten, whether home or away) the Proteas were out-batted
by 78 runs on the first innings at Chittagong, although in fairness they had
virtually wiped out the deficit with all 10 wickets still in hand before the elements
They didn’t get to the crease at all at Mirpur, another Test
where a full four days were lost to nagging rain.
So there is a case for saying it is premature to venture
that slips are glaringly showing in their make-up.
But some worrying evidence is mounting – especially with
regard to the Proteas’ once-revered batting mettle.
They sport woefully inadequate completed innings of 184 and
109 (Mohali) and 214 from their lone turn at the crease in Bangalore.
Not too many series back at all in the parts, those are the
kind of scores more likely to be associated with individual batsmen in their
Only the mercurial, increasingly one-of-a-kind AB de
Villiers is showing anything vaguely resembling form, considering that he has
top-scored in the first South African knock of each Indian Test so far: 63 and
then 85 in his 100th appearance.
Take De Villiers out of the equation and the Proteas’
performance at the crease would be looking even more frail.
One of their other renowned hardcore batsmen, Amla, is in
the grips of a prolonged personal doldrums, and another durable type of
customer, Faf du Plessis, has one run to show from three knocks – in his case,
particularly, you have to assume things can only get better from here.
There is also instability in the bowling line-up, with
Vernon Philander already having quit the tour injured and traditional pace
trump-card Dale Steyn still shrouded in considerable doubt for Nagpur after
sitting out Bangalore.
The next Test is at the venue where he registered match
figures of 10/108 in one of his country’s most heady victories ever over India
on their soil in February 2010 – by an innings and six runs.
South Africa made a back-foot start to that contest (they
were quickly six for two after batting first) but then a withering third-wicket
alliance of 340 between Amla (253 not out) and Jacques Kallis (173) provided
the perfect foundation for their impressive charge to the win.
Right now, that kind of turbo-charged effort seems beyond
the capabilities of a Proteas team struggling to find any consistent levels of
efficiency or ruthlessness.
Particularly if Steyn doesn’t make the cut for the contest, doubts
will exist over the ability of the tourists to complete the required 20-wickets
They are finding it hard, for instance, to determine
precisely which of their unwieldy group of spinners to employ, even if it is a
tricky task as conditions can differ fairly significantly from one Indian Test
centre to another.
Maybe their best way of rekindling collective mojo is to
simply confess quietly among themselves that Bangalore may have been a
fortuitous jailbreak, and that the opportunity now exists to cash in on that
With apologies for slightly twisting a time-honoured
expression, they need to say to each other: “No More Mr Moderate Guys.”
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