Antoinette Muller

SA’s catch-up cricket problem

2014-02-14 09:21
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
You don’t have to be an avid cricket watcher to notice that the South African cricket team tends to take a methodical approach to things. In their selections, they remain conservative and when it comes to starting a series, they tend to take a while to get out of the blocks.

LIVE UPDATES: SA v Australia - Day 3

It happened against England in 2012, when a slow day ended up in South Africa notching up 637/2, declared. Then it happened in Australia  with two drawn Tests and a win in the final. New Zealand and Pakistan were rolled over when they visited these shores, but when the Proteas went to the UAE last year, they stumbled in the first Test. Last December, against India, they had to engineer a draw for the ages to salvage the first Test.

Now, they are in a familiar position yet again. Australia went from being 98-4 to being 397 all out. Two players took the game away from South Africa and then came Mitchell Johnson. Now the Proteas have an uphill battle ahead if they want to avoid the irksome trend of being behind in a Test or, worse yet, falling behind in a Test series on home turf.

South Africa’s coach, Russell Domingo, admitted that South Africa have been playing “catch-up” cricket over the last year. Time and time again, though, South Africa’s resilience, be it an individual or a group effort, has saved them time and time again. Over the past year or so, they have proved that they are the number one team in the world because they can bounce back, but it must be so frustrating to have a team that’s so incredibly talented take their foot off the gas.

It’s a weird position to be. Sometimes South Africa sometimes come across as being conservative, -especially when it comes to squad selection. They stuck with what they knew for the series against Australia, justifying  it by saying this is no time for “left-field” selections. Parnell was perhaps somewhat of a surprise inclusion, but it soon became clear that he did have a little bit of an X-factor about him.   Not only does he offer a left-arm option to create a bit of extra rough for a player like JP Duminy, but he also has the ability to bowl proper gas. His control needs some work, but for short bursts, he’d have been handy.  Ryan McLaren, although a workhorse, doesn’t offer anything that the side doesn’t already have. Sure, he can bowl a lot of overs, but it doesn’t bring any different dynamic to the team.  McLaren feels safe. He’s familiar, he works hard, he thinks about the game, but he is nothing extraordinary. 

It was a methodical decision. Even their decision when to bowl first in the current Test, although weird, was backed up by stats.  Teams who have bowled first at Centurion have won nine Tests with teams batting first winning five.  The surface painted a different picture, though. Although there certainly was a bit juice in it at first,  it was mostly dry and slow. Early on, it looked like the decision might be justified.  After having the Australians four down relatively quickly, the handbrake just came off a little bit. Shaun Marsh, a player who wasn’t even meant to play, and Steve Smith, set a record-fourth wicket stand at Centurion.  The amount of balls Australia could leave were astonishing.  The visitors left 33% of their balls, compared to the 16% South Africa managed to leave in the same time period.

 Johnson’s short bursts were fierce and sometimes unplayable. Brutal pace and solid control put South Africa on the back-foot.  The impact those kinds of spells have on a team’s psyche is brutal. There is very little South Africa could have done about Johnson, no matter how much preparation they put in – and they did prepare well – when you face bowling at that intensity, things become pretty difficult.

But South Africa’s slow starts are still a concern. Sure, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander were ill on day one and a bit out of sorts, but why has it become such a continuous trend for the past few years?

Perhaps it’s a case of simply having gotten into a bad habit and, perhaps, a little bit apathetic. That South Africa has the talent and the mental strength to bounce back from defeats and knocks in Test can’t be doubted. They have proven it over and over again. Whenever their backs have been against the wall before, they have conquered and they have come out on top. Whenever they have been doubted or questioned, they have answered their doubters’ questions with two fingers up.

South Africa might yet again prove that they have the resilience to bounce back and thrive under the pressure of having their backs against the wall. But that doesn’t mean nobody should wonder why they aren’t so completely ruthless right from the get-go.

Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

Read more on:    proteas  |  ozinsa  |  antoinette muller  |  cricket

What To Read Next


Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
Live Video Streaming
Video Highlights
Sport Talk

Love 2 Meet
English Premiership flutter

Take Sport24's "expert" tips at your peril...

Sport24 on Twitter

Follow Sport24 news on Twitter


The 2017/18 Absa Premiership season is under way. Can Bidvest Wits defend their title? Will Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates emerge victorious? Or will the bookies' favourites, Mamelodi Sundowns, taste success for a record eighth time? Stay glued to Sport24 to find out!

Latest blogs

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee remains defiant, saying he won't resign despite a shambolic two years at the helm. Your thoughts?

Twitter Follow Sport24 on Twitter

Facebook "Like" Sport24's Facebook page

WIN Enter and win with Sport24!

BlackBerry Stay in the loop on your BlackBerry

RSS Feeds Sport news delivered really simply.

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.