SA mustn’t gloss over flaws

2011-11-22 09:58

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Honesty and perhaps even some tough love if necessary... that’s what is needed in the Proteas’ post-mortem as they contemplate yet another series that got away, to the justified chagrin of their supporters.

Video Highlights: Day 5

New coach Gary Kirsten is emphatically not the type to resort to panic and pronounced knee-jerk reaction to adversity, but with a bit of luck he will also not be shy to spiritedly, comprehensively address lingering shortcomings in South Africa’s Test-match cricket in the wake of Australia’s thrilling, series-sharing victory at the Wanderers on Monday.

I believe “lingering” is very much the operative word, because the charges he has inherited continue to fall conspicuously short in major home series, and it is quite obviously seriously impeding their quest to return to the top of the global pile.

That is four headline series in a row now where the Proteas have either played second fiddle or only drawn in their own habitat, so serious questions are fully entitled to be asked by both fans and critics.

The unpalatable sequence started when Graeme Smith’s side arguably were seduced too much by their own good press and bottle-clinking bonhomie after the wonderful 2-1 triumph in Australia in 2008/09, and then didn’t “pitch” in various respects for the immediate return series back home and surrendered by the same margin.

That was a really disappointing “better try to wriggle the cork back in the champagne bottle” moment, a bit in line with the old joke we took pleasure in dishing up in these parts - in reverse - after South Africa’s legendary ODI chase against the same foes in the “438” game.

Then they failed to see off England and India in successive series with 1-1 outcomes in 2009/10 and 2010/11.

And now comes this one, which many rightly had viewed as a golden opportunity to finally rip a tenacious monkey off the back by seeing off the Aussies (ranked only fourth on the ICC ladder) on our soil for the first time in post-isolation.

When South Africa eventually prevailed by a handsome eight wickets in the rollercoaster ride that was the Newlands first Test, and with only a highly lamentable lone further battle to follow at the Bullring, circumstances just seemed so ripe for the Proteas to break the bogey, didn’t they?

After all, Australian cricket is in the midst of an often awkward, vulnerable rebuilding phase after their extended all-conquering era, and there is a case for saying it may be many years before so glorious another opportunity comes along again to crack their shell.

So the failure to close out the series at the Wanderers, where so much was in their favour to do so, seemingly sends out a clear signal: something is still missing in a South African side that labours desperately to achieve consistency and a killer touch in the five-day arena.

Even if they had achieved the series success (whether by winning or drawing in Johannesburg), continued imperfections would have needed to be acknowledged: let’s not forget that the Proteas came within a whisker of following on before they battled back for the remarkable win at Newlands.

But not getting over the series line anyway only makes even more starkly apparent now the Proteas’ difficulty in becoming a true machine in Tests in the manner of, say, the great West Indian side of the 1980s or the Aussies of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

There’s absolutely no doubt in my own mind that “should be doing better” remains a very necessary element of any South African report card.

Why do they struggle to string together even two good performances on the trot? Do they really have the mental and physical hunger to get to the pinnacle and stay there?

Do they just not actually appreciate how good they should be as a unit, given the various stellar individual resources at their disposal?

Harsh? Hardly, I think: keep firmly in mind that the nucleus of this particular Proteas side has been together for a very long time.

The top seven batsmen in the current line-up boast a weighty, combined tally of 603 Test appearances - you wouldn’t necessarily have believed that had you watched their fatally rushed and impatient first innings at Wanderers - whilst the country also retains comfortably the best-performing fast bowler in the format in Dale Steyn, backed up by the emerging menace offered by Morne Morkel and now the latest revelation Vernon Philander.

With apologies to the traditional sign in the Chinese take-away shop, “Please be patient, good food takes a little longer to prepare”, that sort of plea doesn’t cut it any longer in terms of the national Test cricket team: they’ve had time enough together yet simply can’t seem to deliver on-field fare of a routinely lofty quality.

It is right that we laud Australia for a massively gutsy fourth-innings effort to win at the Wanderers, breaking some records in the process - their achievement was so impressive that there is no special cause to curse any clear-cut ineptitude or shortcoming by the opposition in the field in this particular instance.

But the great merit of the Baggy Greens’ effort is also not enough to stave off something that is all too apparent: South African under-achievement at home has become a dangerously entrenched phenomenon, not a fad.

Are they going to be humble and realistic enough to realise that?

We wait to see if there is truly constructive remedial action, whatever that may require ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


  • Rabin - 2011-11-22 14:32

    The Proteas are simply unable to wrap up a tail quickly. Mitchell Johnson's average against virtually every other team in the world is around 15. Against the Proteas it's around 50-odd. Why? Because the SA bowlers consistently insist on bowling that line outside off stump thereby giving the tailenders room to play their (usually unorthodox) shots or to simply watch it go past while they get their eye in. Johnson was clearly battling with a foot injury. All the bowlers had to do was to fire in the full-length yorkers at his feet; his defence would have been to get the injured foot out of the way thereby cramping his style and exposing his stumps. Either that or it brings in the LBW. Not all of them are good enough to nick the wide-outside-the-off-stump balls to the keeper or slips. It has been proven over and over again and mentioned by numerous commentators: with tailenders you HAVE to fire in those foot smashers on the middle stump (which Dale Steyn was once really good at doing) - that way you either bowl them out or bring in the LBW - and stop feeding them cannon fodder outside the offstump in the hope you will get a nick to keeper or slips.

  • hugo.naude - 2011-11-22 14:58

    Several areas of concern: the whole team was unprepped for this series ... why? The batting was what let us down the most ... 1 century by Smith not enough to keep his place --- there are ample good talented batsmen to take his place and who WANT to play. How long will the selectors persist with Prince ... clearly past his sell-by date and we have better --- or is he just a quota decoration?? Boucher is pathetic and can hardly hold a bat or bend down to catch and his reflexes are gone ... replace him NOW!!! AB must now leave his impetuous batting behind and grow up ... he cannot be throwing his wicket away anymore --- he is not irreplaceable either. Morne Morkel needs to bowl with ALOT MORE FIRE AND AGGRESSION at the enemy teams ... they need to fear him!!! He has the tools - time to use them .... Captaincy is still an issue --- I doNOT believe smith wants to be captain anymore ... his hunger is not there anymore and he is not good at out-thinking his opposition ... We need a captian of the Clive Rice mould....

  • Regg - 2011-11-22 18:21

    Smith was a real 'BOX' if u get what I mean. Why did he replace Venon, his best bowler of the series? That was bad captaincy and he needs to answer to that.

  • Regg - 2011-11-22 18:26

    Oh ja just one question. Was it my imagination or was Smith and Allen Donald in radio contact while playing?

  • Seraj - 2011-11-22 18:58

    The Proteas will never dominate world cricket until the cliques on and off are handled. Smith easily the worst captain we've ever had... he has the best players in the world at his disposal but continues to baffle with his nonsensical on field decisions. How many times must he let a game slip before they realise he's not the brightest sparkie out there! Boucher only in the team because of Smith and Kallis. Any wicketkeeper who plays as many tests as he has, coupled with the pace bowlers SA always produces, will break records... that's obvious. He's no Gilchrist, that's class right there. RIP Hansie, you could defend 110 if you wanted to...

  • Pieter - 2011-11-23 15:19

    Never mind the series let’s look at the last game, for our Captain and Couch there is a thing like “to draw a tested match” and win the series. Their approach after tee was a joke for all to see this would never never have happened in OZ. When you see you are in danger of losing the match and there’s a big possibility of bad light then you need to bowl negative to force a no result or to get the last few wickets. It not a one day it’s a test match and it would have been a great match if we could stuck it out for a no result. This Australian team is very weak if we cannot win again them now there are a lot of tears to come over the next few months. I had enough of this bunch of brainless cricketers that think it’s a joke to lose against the Ozzies every time.

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