Biff lashes Proteas' skills shortfall

2018-02-18 21:17
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Eight home international cricket matches. Seven losses.

Even more unthinkably, not too long ago, all to a team visiting from the Subcontinent.

Yet that is the stark, unique state of affairs as India's handsome late-summer rally on South African soil only seems to intensify for its ruthless, painful domination.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the Proteas completed the primary business of winning the Test series - and yes, the deal done as recently as a month ago when, in mid-February, the second clash at Centurion was won by 135 runs to ensure a dead-rubber final Test at the Wanderers.

But that was also where an inexplicable U-turn in fortune occurred for the national team, the eventful, controversial Bullring Test being surrendered by 63 runs to spark the beginning of a protracted Indian renaissance that is showing no signs of subsiding into one-foot-on-the-plane syndrome.

Virat Kohli and company have since gone on to humiliate South Africa 5-1 in the one-day international series - all of their wins by gaping margins, too - and on Sunday the suffering continued as the first of three Twenty20 meetings went the tourists' way by a comfortable 28 runs before a virtual full house in Johannesburg.

With modern rotation policies and the often vast difference in staffing that occurs when countries play each other across the three formats on a lengthy single tour, there is a certain deceptiveness, perhaps, to the Proteas' plight.

For those now gravely fearing what might happen when the already-landed Australians tackle South Africa over four Tests from March 1, they might do well to bear in mind for contextual purposes that when that mouth-watering combat begins, the Proteas - assuming all their currently crocked or resting troops are ready - will filter back an array of reassuring names not presently in operational mode for the country’s cause.

Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Keshav Maharaj ... that is just about a whole new team, and thank goodness for that, really.

What we are witnessing more immediately is a glimpse at the Proteas’ extended personnel, their supposed “depth” and, in some respects, a taste of the future. And that side of things only looks increasingly sobering, depressing.

Over the last three unedifying weeks - which have also put the still bedding-down, Ottis Gibson-led coaching regime under sharpening scrutiny - the Indian limited-overs side have outclassed, out-thought, out-muscled and (particularly?) out-skilled their home-based counterparts.

Even more damningly, some would submit, Sunday only underlined the grim truth that South Africa, as happened last year in England, are again playing second fiddle to a fellow-superpower in a department where they once so proudly ruled the global roost: fielding/catching.

It took an Indian legend to point this out from the SuperSport commentary booth at the Wanderers, the 10 000 Test-run Sunil Gavaskar saying, almost as if he were a lamenting, nostalgic South African: "What has happened? South Africa used to be such a brilliant fielding side."

His words came in the aftermath of Farhaan Behardien botching a regulation catch on the boundary to give a life to the imperious, bang-in-form Kohli, no less - the same fielder’s second such lapse on the day.

At least the much-maligned Behardien bounced back to show a bit of welcome mettle at the crease, helping impressively assertive, crisp-striking Reeza Hendricks amass an 81-run fourth-wicket partnership in the steep chase to give the Highveld faithful just a glimmer of temporary hope that the home cause might prevail in pursuit of 200-plus.

Still, as much as the Proteas were again let down in delivery terms by supposedly senior stroke-players like JP Duminy and David Miller, this match was frittered away to a pretty large extent by bafflingly wide-of-the-mark bowling strategies from the home outfit.

Their fast bowlers failed lamentably for consistency, subtlety and variation, insisting all too often in indulging in back-of-a-length fare that was punished with some glee. Hardly helped was an unacceptably swollen SA wides tally of nine.

As if to consciously expose their earlier collective folly, India's altogether wilier quickies almost immediately opted for fuller lengths and regular, profound pace changes that duly brought reward.

The outstanding Bhuvneshwar Kumar earned his maiden five-wicket haul in the format (5/24), and iconic, marathon-serving former SA captain Graeme Smith, also on commentary duty, was far from slow to highlight the difference in nous on the day.

"Kumar's skills have been a level above (South Africa's) today ... he kept the Proteas guessing with them all the time. Knuckle balls, leg-cutters ... (Proteas) go and watch the video."

Throw in the blockhole excellence at times of Jasprit Bumrah and the gulf only became more obvious.

But Smith wasn't quite done, also offering a more general appraisal of the deep hole the Proteas currently find themselves in: "The problem for South Africa is all departments are looking shoddy at the moment."

Expect little dissent to the big fellow on that one.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  graeme smith  |  cricket


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