Colin Bryden

SA face life without Boucher

2012-07-11 09:11
Sport24 columnist Colin Bryden (File)
South Africa’s team dynamic has been altered dramatically and, sadly, permanently by the career-ending injury to Mark Boucher. Whether AB de Villiers or Thami Tsolekile is best qualified from a technical point of view to take the gloves in the first Test at the Oval next week is not as important as how the on-field leadership will be affected.

GALLERY: Mark Boucher's career timeline

Boucher was an integral part of the team when it was functioning at its best, pepping up the bowlers and fielders, offering advice on tactics and field placings to Graeme Smith - and getting under the skin of opposing batsmen.

Leadership is one reason De Villiers, the one-day captain and Test vice-captain, is expected to be behind the stumps on Thursday week, although Tsolekile has sound credentials.

The other reason is concern about the depth of South Africa’s batting. If Boucher’s injury had come at a time when the top six batsmen were all in prime form, the argument for a specialist wicketkeeper would have been stronger. In the long term, De Villiers cannot be expected to be a key batsman, wicketkeeper and, in the not- too-distant future, captain.

Unfortunately, the form of the batsmen - and the bowlers for that matter - is unproven after a two-day game in Taunton, with just one three-day match to come before the Test. It is a consequence of the gamble of going into the series with minimal preparation.

With De Villiers keeping wicket, South Africa will have seven specialist batsmen on a ground where the Proteas have a dismal record, having lost all three post-isolation Test matches at the south London venue. Remarkably, all three defeats came after South Africa won the toss and batted first.

There is no logical reason why the Oval should be a hoodoo ground, other than that on each occasion the Oval Test has been the last of the series. The 1994 tour was much longer than this one, with six first-class matches before the first Test - which South Africa won by a massive 356 runs. By the time the team got to the Oval they were distracted by the arrival of families and thoughts of going home.

In 2003 South Africa were leading a five-match series 2-1 and there may have been an element of hubris after South Africa dominated the first day, scoring 362/4. A collapse the next morning and some fine batting by England gave the home side a precious lead, which was exploited when clouds rolled in and the ball swung for the first time in the match in the second innings.

Four years ago South Africa had already won the series so the pressure was off. Even so, their performance was disappointing.

It is worth noting that the series win in 2008 came after just two warm-up matches, the only other time a tour of England has had such a short lead-up to the first Test. South Africa looked distinctly under-cooked in the first Test at Lord’s but escaped with a draw after an exceptional rearguard action in the second innings.

With this series consisting of only three Tests, South Africa will need to be at the top of their game from the first ball next Thursday. It is a tall order.

Colin Bryden will be covering the England-South Africa series. He has reported on all four of South Africa’s previous tours of England since 1994.

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