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There was still time for whooping and hollering on Monday. For AB de Villiers, more time to hone wicket-keeping skills that by his own admission have gone rusty, albeit only in the Test format. Dale Steyn, meanwhile, was getting batting tips from Jacques Kallis.
It was serious certainly, but it all looked a little leisurely in the Yorkshire sunshine. The more intense preparation usually takes place two days before the start of the Test, meaning Tuesday’s session will be hard work. With Graeme Smith having rejoined the squad on Monday night, there may be more of a feeling for what’s to come.
The Proteas under Gary Kirsten aren’t the terse, almost robotic team that existed in previous eras under the captaincy of Kepler Wessels or Hansie Cronjé. That’s not to say they’re ill-disciplined and out of shape, just that a premium has been placed on saving performances for when they matter most – in Test matches.
Hence the incredulity in the camp about their supposed under-preparedness ahead of the first Test. Once the competitive juices were properly flowing, though, we all saw how that game turned out.
It’s the same here, though no one is talking about them being “under-cooked” this week. Instead, many are wondering how they can possibly back up a performance to get close to what they produced at The Oval.
No one thinks they can match what they did in London at Headingley, and the South Africans through Kirsten, Kallis and De Villiers have provided a realistic assessment of where they stand and how they believe England will react to the first-Test defeat.
On Monday, JP Duminy joined the chorus. “It will be hard to beat that,” he said of the scale of the first Test win, an innings and 12-run triumph in which South Africa thoroughly dominated for four of the five days. “But more than likely, it won’t be like that again. It will be a tough battle.”
As was the case before the first Test, the Proteas are retreating into their familiar bubble as they begin the process of preparing for the Headingley match. Morné Morkel will be thinking about tormenting Andrew Strauss again, Dale Steyn will be thinking about scaring everyone and Vernon Philander will be quietly scheming about the right lines and particular lengths to bowl at Headingley.
The Proteas aren’t expected to make any changes for the match. There was a little bit of concern about a foot injury Imran Tahir had picked up at The Oval, but he was on his feet again on Monday. The prospect of no changes means Duminy will be down to bat at No 7 again, a spot lower down than he is used to, but not one that seems to faze him too much.
“It is a bit low, but there isn’t a major difference to number six. It’s where I’ve batted most of my career in Test cricket. You will end up batting with the tail a bit more, and it’s about sussing out how to work that out and communicating with the guys down the order and making sure we get the runs on the board,” he said.
Because the Proteas lost only two wickets at The Oval, England never got the chance to expose Duminy to Graeme Swann, who has dismissed the left-hander three times in five Tests. “It’s not a rumour that it hasn’t gone very well for me of late (against England), but I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
Duminy averages 16.28 after five Tests against England, with just one half-century. “I’m not putting too much pressure on myself, and I’m just playing with the freedom that I usually play with.” – Cape Times