Proteas’ tour: Is it wrong way around?

2018-07-25 14:30
Faf du Plessis
Faf du Plessis (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Easily South Africa’s best, most durable innings of the highly problematic short Test series in Sri Lanka was their fourth and final one ... quite possibly sending out an important message.

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They earned belated plaudits from certain home commentators for mustering a determined 290 - even if it still fell way short of the 490 target in the second Test at Colombo SSC - and negotiating 86.5 overs in doing so.

Both in total runs and weight-of-overs terms, it substantially eclipsed anything they had posted at the crease in their pallid first three knocks of a series emphatically lost 2-0.

It seemed to indicate that, just possibly, the Proteas were finally getting to grips, to some degree, with the conditions - albeit well after the fact by then.

Bear in mind that in times gone by, a lifting-of-curve phenomenon might well have been fully expected by that point, given the immeasurably greater acclimatisation time (usually involving a few proper, first-class matches against franchises/provinces) a touring group would have had by then.

The tight, congested and much more multi-pronged nature of international tours these days has almost unavoidably slashed that “prep” phase for touring outfits planet-wide, of course; the Proteas are no special exception.

But that said, and with hindsight a wonderful science, it still seemed an awfully big ask for Faf du Plessis and company to truly hit the ground running in the five-day format - the one generally requiring the best levels of stamina, too - straight out of the domestic winter and with such contrasting, humid weather and pitch characteristics only additional challenges.

I believe it is extremely feasible that the Proteas would have put up altogether steelier resistance (even if not necessarily won or split the series, of course) had the ODI and Twenty20 fare come first.

Illuminatingly, when the Proteas grittily won the corresponding 2014 Test series in Sri Lanka, they had played the one-day stuff first.

For all the controversial, gradual marginalisation and shrinkage in volume of Test cricket these days, at least for the time being tours still tend to be best remembered for what happened in the long-format battle, don’t they?

Yes, technical and mental issues played a considerable part in their unexpectedly heavy demise, but the first Test at Galle, in particular, also revealed pretty clear, aggravating signs that SA were short of a gallop at that juncture ... which hardly helps amidst the multitude of other obstacles on the Subcontinent.

Bowlers, just for example, always value recent “miles in the legs” ahead of the challenge of potentially bowling 20 or more overs a day over the course of a Test in punishing heat.

In most cases in their ranks, that luxury had been absent.

Was it any coincidence that, at Galle, a still acutely ring-rusty South Africa twice in a row - to varying extents - demoralizingly let the Sri Lankan tail off the hook?

In the first innings, the ‘Lankans escaped from 176 for eight to a wholly more respectable 287 all out (potentially killer stuff, really, when you are scrapping away on the Subcontinent) and in the second the home team’s last-wicket partnership produced a nuisance-value 28 runs.

You did pick up a sense of the SA fielding side collectively running out of gas a bit, in each instance.

It is difficult to know what logistical or other factors were at play in Cricket South Africa agreeing to the tour itinerary with their Sri Lankan counterparts, but might it not be a better idea, for future purposes when the Proteas are required to visit the Subcontinent during our winter, to try to insist on the limited-overs section coming first?

After all, most of the major SA Test batsmen, for example, are players who also represent the one-day cause.

They might well have gained greater value - and key confidence - by playing some knocks in prior-staged limited-overs internationals, which also might well have been on slightly easier, less dry and dusty tracks from a stroke-play point of view.

It is a known fact that, on India’s current, keenly-monitored major tour of England, the Indians were extremely happy - and may have exerted conscious pressure to make it happen? - to have the one-day fare ahead of the blue-chip, five-Test series.

As far back as April, their head coach Ravi Shastri publicly enthused: “We (will be) in England almost a month before the first Test match … that gives us that much more time to prepare.”

Many of the SA Test party in Sri Lanka might have relished similar liberty ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sri lanka  |  proteas  |  cricket


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