SA’s 1st Test woe: new cure?

2014-06-17 13:07
Russell Domingo (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Proteas coach Russell Domingo is likely to present a fresh suggestion to his charges in getting to grips with “first-Test syndrome” ... don’t obsess about it too much.

South Africa are relatively notorious in recent years, including well before Domingo’s tenure started, for getting off on the back foot in five-day series, whether home or away and regardless of the series duration.

They set off soon for the challenge of tackling Sri Lanka in two Tests – the first at Galle from July 16 – in conditions that have more often than not seen them come a cropper; the last series win there came in the 1993 head-hunting heyday of Allan Donald and Brett Schultz.

So they have to somehow try to hit the ground running, despite the additional, customary winter problem of off-season cobwebs.

Domingo has told Sport24 that the players and coaching staff are “fully aware” of the first-Test blues.

The problem has surfaced in all of their last three series, the most recent having been the 281-run loss to Australia at Centurion last summer, when Mitchell Johnson (7/68 and 5/59) was virtually unplayable on an uneven surface that played right into his hands – the Aussies later clinched the series 2-1 to seize back the No 1 ranking.

Before that, the Proteas were mostly playing second fiddle in the first Test against India at the Wanderers, before they so nearly stormed from behind to win the stalemate after registering 450 for seven in the fourth innings in pursuit of an improbable 458.

And on the tour preceding that, to the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan, they were thumped by seven wickets in the first Test in Abu Dhabi, before hitting back to share the series spoils 1-1 in Dubai.

Asked whether there would be further discussion around the phenomenon, Domingo said: “It’s been addressed so much in the past, spoken about in previous series. Of course we’re aware of it.

“I just wonder whether you more talk about it, more you debate it, the harder it actually becomes to get rid of.

“Guys will naturally have it in the back of their minds ... we are trying to rectify it as best we can.”

The Proteas have a two-day fitness assessment on Wednesday and Thursday, with Domingo believing that a cricket-specific “camp” for three or four days would probably serve little purpose – they have been tried before with no special fruits later to show in first Tests.

“We will just find out where guys are in terms of fitness and injuries. Players like Hashim (Amla) and Alviro (Petersen) have been playing some county cricket – Kyle Abbott also -- and eight players have come back from the Indian Premier League, with rest and recovery perhaps the most beneficial and advisable formula for them.”

Domingo is happy that the three-game ODI series (opening match in Colombo on July 6) is contested first.

“One-dayers first is what we asked for, to get more acclimatised to the conditions. Of course they are also very important to us with a World Cup looming Down Under, but we have plenty of ODIs coming up anyway, and conditions in Sri Lanka and Australia are chalk and cheese -- so different.

“So it will suit us in this instance playing the ODIs first to gear for the Test series.”

It is simply the nature of the modern cricket beast, with its tight schedules and little room for increasingly soulless warm-up fixtures, that teams will be vulnerable to rust when travelling out of their domestic season.

“You can’t have a warm-up Test match for a Test match. It’s just the way it is; we’ve just got to make best use of what prep time we get over there, whether it’s nets or middles. It’s the best we can do. Obviously it’s an advantage for Sri Lanka being at home, and playing a series as we speak in England that will keep them (sharp).

“Somebody like Vernon Philander will be most at risk of (cobwebs), and the new caps like Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Piedt will similarly have had no cricket for three months or so. Dean Elgar’s another in that boat for the Test series.”

Domingo says he is looking forward to working with Amla, the newly-appointed Test captain: “I’ve known Hashim for a long time and I’m really excited to work with him.

“We have a very healthy relationship in terms of not agreeing on everything, whether it’s cricket tactics or outlook on life ... we have different opinions on many things but we also share common beliefs and interests. We value each others’ opinions, so that’s exciting.”

The coach is also not harping too much yet on regaining the No 1 spot on the rankings.

“It’s about trying to win a Test series, whether it’s 1-0 or 2-0, in a country where we haven’t often (had it easy).

“We are also in a changeover sort of phase, with no Smith or Kallis, so it’s about finding a new, winning combination and it might not come straight away. We might need to still tinker in the next series, or one after that to get it right.

“The No 1 ranking is massively important, it’s something we aspire to, but let’s play some good cricket again before we think about it – if we do that, the ranking will sort itself out.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  russell domingo  |  cricket

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