The drawn first Test against Australia has raised questions about the form, if not the quality, of the much-vaunted South African pace attack.
The way the Australian batsmen, Michael Clarke (259 not out), Ed Cowan (136) and Michael Hussey (100) bashed the bowlers around on the fourth day was positively alarming. In the final session of play on Sunday, when 181 runs were scored in 34 overs, the South Africans almost seemed to give up the fight.
A total of 23 no-balls didn’t help, with two of them enabling Australian batsmen to escape dismissal.
So desperate did SA captain Graeme Smith become, in fact, that he used himself, Hashim Amla and Alviro Petersen to bowl 14 overs to spread the load, or perhaps that should read, the devastation.
Part of the Proteas’ problems were down to plain bad luck – JP Duminy was supposed to play the Paul Harris -type holding role. Of course that theory went up in smoke when Duminy ruptured his Achilles.
The rest of the problem, unfortunately, was due to pretty ordinary bowling.
Rory Kleinveldt had a disappointing debut, going for 27 runs in his first three overs and a total of 97 in all from 21 overs, while Vernon Philander has picked up precisely zero scalps so far on tour.
After the Test, a rather cryptic Smith tried hard to be polite about his bowlers, but ultimately found it a difficult task. The no-balls, he argued, were “unacceptable”, while the bowlers just didn’t “hit their straps with the ball” and were “unable to respond” or “build pressure” when the Australian batsmen took the fight to them.
Admittedly the pitch was in many parts the villain, being slower and much more placid than any of the pundits had expected. Predictably, the Australian media were much more interested in writing up the virtues of Clarke, Hussey and Cowan than they were in investigating the underlying causes of why the batsmen dominated, so a short passage, buried deep in a journalist’s copy, spoke volumes.
Writing on the morning of the final day, Peter Lalor of The Australian: “The Brisbane Test will almost certainly conclude as little more than a demonstration bout. That South Africa – a side with the best fast bowling attack in cricket – should bring on Hashim Amla to bowl tells you all you need to know about how futile the situation had become.
“The green Gabba track (myth) fooled everybody. When Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel, Vernon Philander and Rory Kleinveldt can summon only three wickets – Cowan was run out – from almost 100 overs, it is obvious there is not much in the pitch.”
On the other hand, James Pattinson proved on the final day with the best spell of the match that fast and clinical bowling can achieve wonders – regardless of the conditions.
Nevertheless, conspiracy theorists may argue that far from producing surfaces to encourage the respective pace attacks of the two teams, it’s Australia’s intention to do the opposite by producing bland pitches that suck up the vitality of Steyn and co.
The Gabba fitted the conspiracy theorists’ blueprint, now the Adelaide Oval awaits …