Proteas: Shift to home Tests fitting

2015-11-28 14:33
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The now-confirmed loss of their nine-year unbeaten Test record abroad carries certain blessings for South Africa ... it allows them to place a stronger emphasis on perking up their home performances.

Still the top-ranked side in the world -- a situation that won’t change even if they lose the dead-rubber fourth and final Test against India in Delhi from Thursday for a 3-0 outcome in the host nation’s favour -- the Proteas very soon switch to a two-series, six-game cycle of home Test clashes.

Ashes holders England arrive very shortly for an extended, all-formats tour highlighted by four Tests for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy starting in Durban on Boxing Day, whilst New Zealand are scheduled to play two late-winter Tests on our shores in August.

The England series is particularly important for Hashim Amla’s troops, as triumph in it would help recreate some daylight at the top of the pecking order rather than the likelihood of tumbling from the perch.

But it is also an opportunity for South Africa to earn an overdue home conquest over those foes, as England have not suffered defeat on their safaris to these parts since the 1999/2000 season.

The last, four-Test series in 2009/10 was shared 1-1, whilst in 2004/05, as they built a head of steam under Duncan Fletcher’s guiding hand for their famous Ashes drought-breaker of 2005, England pipped the Proteas 2-1 in a five-match series.

So nobody in the current SA set-up has yet savoured home Test success over the English, even if a handful of the personnel have been involved in the triumphant respective away series of 2008 and 2012.

When you throw in the fact that the Proteas have also won their last two series away to their other oldest Test rivals, Australia, yet not managed to beat them in as many as seven post-isolation series on our own shores, it tells you that SA have – almost uniquely -- been fuelled more by their resilience in enemy territory in getting to and staying at No 1 on the planet than anything else.

A certain home frailty has tended to stalk them, meaning that for all their courage and aptitude “on the road”, they have seldom been able to boast being as majestic as, say, some of the great West Indies Test outfits of the 1980s or Aussie teams of the Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh eras.

It is something for them to bear in mind as they begin picking up the pieces – hopefully even as early as the Delhi fixture, where they can recapture at least a bit of pride – for the imminent domestic summer.

The Indian tour was always going to be a tough challenge, considering that the Proteas have some fairly raw players and are undoubtedly still acclimatising gradually to the staggered retirements of once-core, long-serving characters like Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher.

They may have been caught a bit off-guard, too, by the controversial extent of the dustbowls created by their hosts.

The Proteas have also had to negotiate significant portions of the Test series stripped of staple new-ball pair Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.

Philander looks likely to only join the England combat after it has started, but even a start-out frontline pace trio of a hopefully fit Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada operating on altogether seam-friendlier SA surfaces will go a long way to lifting collective spirits automatically in the national team.

The host nation must not make the mistake of entering the series too cocky, and that is highly unlikely now anyway given their relative fall from grace and loss of that away milestone in India.

It is also true to say that the Proteas – while taking into account the near-horrible conditions recently – are showing a few flaws in their batting department, with incumbent top-seven men like Stiaan van Zyl and wicketkeeper Dane Vilas under special scrutiny after their woes at the crease over the first three Tests against the Indians.

Yet the nucleus of a healthy cupboard remains: the left-handed Van Zyl, for instance, was making solid strides up until the current tour; who is to say that he might not turn his fortunes around quite markedly back on more familiar, preferred terrain?

Then there are several appealing, bubbling-under batsmen to throw into the mix, like the patiently on-tour but inactive to this juncture Temba Bavuma, plus the likes of Rilee Rossouw and Quinton de Kock, both of whom cannot yet be discounted for superstardom in either five-day or limited-overs international cricket.

There will need to be a thorough post-mortem from the Indian tour, but hopefully it will not involve too much jerking of knees ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  hashim amla  |  cricket

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