Colin Bryden

Proteas are going backwards

2009-12-31 11:31
Sport24 columnist Colin Bryden (File)
Colin Bryden

Without wishing to join the doom and gloom merchants who want to see wholesale changes in the South African team, there is a worrying lethargy about the side at the moment.

Sure, they nearly won the first Test but the manner of their defeat in Durban was embarrassing.

I cannot recall seeing a South African bowling unit starting sessions as poorly as they did at Kingsmead, thus handing the advantage to the opposition.

At the start of the England innings, Dale Steyn looked seriously under-cooked (it was worrying to hear him say in a television interview that he was feeling his way back – surely no-one should play in a Test match unless they are 100 percent ready) and Makhaya Ntini was dreadful in his first three overs, which cost 25 runs.

Morne Morkel bowled well at the start of the next day and there was an altogether improved discipline about the bowlers but the reality was that, Morkel apart, they seldom threatened. Graeme Smith soon went on the defensive.

After doing a decent containing job on day three, South Africa looked alarmingly flat at the start of the fourth day, with Morkel perhaps showing the effects of his efforts the previous day and Steyn largely unthreatening.

What was most distressing was what happened after lunch on the fourth day. With the third new ball due, Smith opted to continue using the slow bowling of Paul Harris and JP Duminy with defensive fields. They were quite rightly treated with contempt by England batsmen seeking a declaration. With such a negative attitude prevailing, South Africa’s batting collapse later in the day was not totally surprising.

When the new ball was finally taken it brought Steyn a couple of wickets, with the assistance of batsmen looking for quick runs, while Ntini was again innocuous.

How quickly have the mighty fallen. After the glories of 2008, the ledger shows one win, four losses and one draw in Test matches in 2009.

The calendar year statistics show a decline in individual performances. AB de Villiers was an honourable exception among the batsmen, with 572 runs at 57.20, although Jacques Kallis's 532 runs at 48.36 was close to the standard expected of a world-class batsman.

The bowling figures are revealing. The supposed world-class pace trio of Steyn, Morkel and Ntini were outshone by left-arm spinner Paul Harris, whose 26 wickets at 33.15 were the most by a South African.

Steyn took 22 at 32.86, which is moderate, Morkel 15 at 40.66, which amounts to under-achievement, and Ntini 13 at 57.00, which is terrible.

When I hear Smith wondering aloud whether the team’s training and coaching are appropriate, as he did in his after-match press conference in Durban, there is serious cause for concern.

2010, surely, can only be better.

Colin Bryden is a former cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times and current editor of the Mutual & Federal South African Cricket Annual

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.


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