Proteas in Australia

Time to come off ropes, SA

2012-11-13 11:04
Gary Kirsten (Gallo)
Cape Town – Show us your counter-punch now, South Africa!

That will be the not unreasonable plea from followers of the national cricket side after the Proteas were a little unexpectedly out-muscled in the drawn first Test at the Gabba.

Considering the ebb and flow that normally characterises series between well-matched outfits, and was already in evidence during Brisbane hostilities themselves, the tourists having to hobble to some extent to the stalemate hardly constituted a train smash.

VIDEO: Australia v South Africa, first Test highlights

It remains nil-nil with two to play – resuming at Adelaide Oval on November 22 – and keep in mind that if the Proteas can pull themselves together to the extent that they prevail in scenic South Australia, their continued hold on the No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings is assured even before the sides proceed to Perth.

Wily, vastly experienced captain Graeme Smith noted shortly after hands were shaken on the first contest that his charges have now “got into the series”, and largely unscathed despite the relative indignity of playing second fiddle in Queensland.

Reading between the lines, he was more or less conceding: “We’ve had our wake-up call.”

Still, as that balanced commentator and former Aussie representative Tom Moody pointed out by way of own post mortem on the Gabba, if many of his compatriots had found it hard to disagree that the South Africans started the series as favourites, the inclination now will be to view it more as “even money”.

The Proteas might even acknowledge that themselves, following a Test match in which their opponents were the more rampaging of the two teams at the crease and, particularly on last-day evidence when pacemen James Pattinson and Peter Siddle gave it a gallant push for victory, also a tad more testosterone-filled when bowling.

All it took on the final day to light the Aussie rag was a bird flying across the line of batsman Smith’s vision, leading to the big left-hander’s quite rightful last-minute pull-out of his stroke even as Pattinson unleashed his delivery.

The young speedster immediately gave the veteran Proteas captain a volley of words probably not short of expletives, but it was just the sort of gee-up a bowling attack can collectively find useful ... and a phenomenon the highly-touted South African arsenal could not really muster in this match, especially given the indiscipline that saw several of them suffer a rare walloping.

 There’s very little you can “sledge”, after all, when your opponents are smashing you for 565 for five in only 138 overs, which was a particularly worrying aspect to the onslaught given the almost ODI-like run-rate of 4.09.

With a bit of luck, the Proteas will emerge from Brisbane suitably miffed by the way they surrendered their early choke-hold on the match and allowed the pendulum to instead move rather prodigiously the other way.

There is simply increased urgency now to demonstrate, from Adelaide onwards, that they are not the top-ranked side for nothing.

The fact that there is a nine-day break between Tests may gently re-open the debate, too, around whether South Africa “going light” on non-Test tour matches is really the correct way to go.

Especially considering the unacceptable proliferation of no-balls conceded by the seamers, there is probably a case for suggesting a two-day game, for instance, might have had value for fine-tuning purposes.

But then again, having a lean “county” schedule on the 2012 tour of England certainly did no harm on that triumphant occasion: the Proteas saved all their intensity quite admirably for the Test environment itself.

It was a debate I visited with coach Gary Kirsten in an extensive interview shortly before the squad’s departure for Down Under, and he said: “I have consulted a lot with the players over that: I had long had a view, having played professionally for 17 years, that playing loads of nondescript warm-up games in preparation for Test-match intensities doesn’t even remotely (ready) you.

“I would rather have guys practise with real intensity in the nets than play some county second-string type of games where there will be no intensity ... I don’t think there’s an exact science to how you prepare, but I also don’t buy into the philosophy of automatically playing a lot of low-intensity games.”

The fact remains that South Africa are very much alive in this series, and it will come as a major surprise if, given their modern standards in pride and professionalism, they underperform too glaringly again in certain departments at Adelaide.

There are a few selection issues for their brains trust to mull over, and these will also be debated on Sport24 over the next few days, but two things seem pretty certain: Rory Kleinveldt’s one-cap Test career will not be extended for the second clash on the anticipated favourable track for batting, and leg-spinner Imran Tahir will also recapture his slot.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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