Cape Town - In an exclusive, the former 20-Test
all-rounder talks about South Africa’s poor start against Pakistan, the current
plight of Test cricket and whether or not the Proteas are over-reliant on
asked: Having last played Test cricket in February, unsurprising South Africa
have struggled to find their feet in the first Test?
Pat Symcox: No, to be honest I’m
a little surprised that the Proteas find themselves on the back foot, because
modern cricketers are generally very good at switching on
and off and between formats. Nowadays players have highly impressive facilities
at their disposal all-year-round. As such, I wouldn’t subscribe a poor
performance completely to ring-rustiness.
asked: Have the Proteas become over-reliant on Hashim Amla’s batting
Pat Symcox: I don’t believe so.
I’m of the view that we possess enough top quality players in our batting
line-up to trouble any side in world cricket. In this Test match in particular
think it’s been more a case of players getting in and then failing to
capitalize. In the first innings for example, there were a few soft dismissals particularly
in the middle order and the tail was poor in terms of their shot selection
against spin. I believe the key is to rotate the strike and become more
asked: What have you made of the playing surface at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu
Pat Symcox: From what I can gather, the wicket is low and slow – your typical
sub-continental track. The key when you play one such a surface is that when
you bat you have to post a big score in your first innings, because as the Test
match progresses so the wicket deteriorates, which makes run-scoring ever more
challenging. On the sub-continent it’s even more crucial to mount a score which
the bowlers can defend. Ideally, one of the top five in your batting order need
to score a big century and on those type of wickets patience is a virtue.
asked: In your book, how good, bad or average is the sixth-ranked Pakistani
Pat Symcox: Compared to Pakistan
teams of old, I don’t regard the current crop as a great side. While spinner
Saeed Ajmal is a special player who is right up there, there is no one else in the
current side who really strikes fear into the heart of their opponents like
Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram did during my playing days. The current side is
inconsistent and quite frankly in disarray, which makes the Proteas’
performance even more disappointing.
asked: Your thoughts on the selection of
Robin Peterson ahead of Imran Tahir…
Pat Symcox: Over the last while
Peterson has been the Proteas’ go-to-guy. While Tahir does bowl the odd ball
that takes a wicket, he was a disaster for South Africa in the last few Tests
he played. While Peterson is also inconsistent and is suffering a fairly lean
spell himself, he offers more solidity to the batting order. I’ve been
impressed with JP Duminy, who offers the perfect foil to Peterson. For me he
has always been more than a part-time bowler. He is a very capable off-spinner
and on the subcontinent in particular, fits the mould as an all-rounder.
South Africa’s batsmen coping better with spin bowling now than in the past?
Pat Symcox: The records will show that South Africans have battled to get the
better of spin. However, I’m not entirely convinced. I believe that the likes
of Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers are now more adept at playing spin.
That said, if a spinner bowls the most overs in a match, odds are that he will
take the highest wicket haul as has proved the case with Ajmal.
asked: Does a two-Test series disappoint cricket purists and devalue the
Pat Symcox: Playing only two
Tests certainly disappoints the purists, of which I am one. Lose the first Test
and you can’t win the series. I’m
surprised that any board would agree to a two-Test series. I’m sure that if the
decision was referred to the players, none of them would be keen on such a
short series, if one can call it that. I
believe we must play at least three Tests or none at all. There’s no doubt that
a greater emphasis is now placed on the shorter formats of the game owing to
the revenue generated. As such, Test cricket really is on the back-burner. I
believe it’s essential that we keep Test cricket alive. While I understand the
place for the ODI and T20 formats, I’m a traditionalist at heart and love Test
asked: When the players are able to enjoy some free time, what’s there to do in
Pat Symcox: Off days in Dubai mean shopping for some players, movies or golf for
others – there are a number of great courses. Generally, however, the players
will get in as much rest time as possible and lay by the pool to cope with the
heat and recharge their batteries. I was part of the Proteas side that won the
1996 Sharjah Cup in the UAE and at temperatures of between 35-40 degrees; I can
tell you that it’s no fun running around the shopping centres.
asked: Talking about the heat, do you think the new ice-vests are a good
Pat Symcox: The vests are
inventive, but when it’s hot it’s hot. Modern players are well travelled and
heat is a factor that they have learnt to cope with. In my view, the best way
to handle the heat is for one’s batting line-up to pile on the runs allowing
the rest of the team to remain in the air-conditioned change room.
Joe van Niekerk