Proteas coach Gary Kirsten may not be a demonstrative man, and he is unlikely to start banging on tables, but the walls of the University Oval changing rooms were certainly ringing last Thursday evening.
South Africa’s much-vaunted batting line-up had just suffered their latest – in a recent long line – of collapses. The Proteas lost seven wickets in one session, partly due to the inspired fast bowling of New Zealand’s Chris Martin, but mostly due to injudicious shot selection. It left the tail with too much to do the next day and South Africa were dismissed for 238.
It is here where the Proteas lost the opportunity to keep their foot down on the Black Caps in order for them to buy the time to push for a victory in the first Test.
As much as the rain that pelted down all day on Sunday in Dunedin ruined a potentially fascinating end to a gripping Test, it was not the heavens’ fault that South Africa can now no longer topple England on the ICC world rankings Test list. The Proteas needed to win 3-0 to take over the mantle.
“We let a very good position slip in our first innings with a couple of loose shots, and it’s not the first time it’s happened this season. Our top six had a good chat with Gazza (Kirsten) about it and we’re determined to put it right,” captain Graeme Smith said on Sunday after the fifth day washout that left New Zealand still 264 runs short, but with eight wickets in the bank.
Premier batsman Jacques Kallis has echoed similar thoughts during the Test and had also made reference to the Kirsten “chat”. It certainly was needed because South Africa have not done justice to the amount of batting talent available to them this season, especially in the first innings. In terms of statistics and rankings, the Proteas top six, with stars such as Smith, Hashim Amla, Kallis and AB de Villiers, are equal to, if not better than, any major Test-playing nation’s top-order in all conditions. Collectively, they have scored almost 30 000 Test runs, and that does not include Saturday’s centurion, Jacques Rudolph, and Newlands century maker Alviro Peterson’s Test run contributions.
The number one principle of Kirsten’s coaching mantra is to follow the “processes”. Surely, one of the fundamental principles of this would be to compile a big first-innings lead, and this is where South Africa have fallen short thus far this season. In six first innings, South Africa have managed 96 (Newlands) and 266 (Wanderers) against Australia, 411 (Centurion), 168 (Kingsmead) and 580/4 (Newlands) against Sri Lanka before the 238 against New Zealand in Dunedin. Although the home pitches were admittedly “spicy”, it still equates to just two scores above 300.
It should then not be surprising that South Africa won both those Tests – one by an innings and the other by 10 wickets.
This pales in comparison to the second-innings totals of 236/2 (Newlands) and 339 all out (Wanderers) against Australia, while 241 at Kingsmead against Sri Lanka was an improvement on the first-innings debacle, and South Africa rectified their mistakes here too with three centurions in their 435/5 declared.
These types of responses are great character-building boosts for the team, but should not be required by a side which have ambitions to be ranked No 1 in the world, and especially when facing the likes of New Zealand, who are ranked as low as eighth, which is even below the much-maligned West Indies.
Smith did, however, promise that the perennial slow-starting Proteas would improve ahead of the second Test that starts in Hamilton on Thursday.
“We will definitely improve as the series goes on, starting in Hamilton in a few days’ time. We weren’t at our best for the first two days.
“Some of the guys are still settling and there was still a bit of jet lag – that’s no excuse, but we’ll be stronger in the next match,” said Man of the Match Smith, who scored a century and a fifty in this match.
Meanwhile, ICC general manager Dave Richardson has responded to Kallis’s criticism of the decision review system.
“The bottom line is that they are going to be more consistent and more accurate than the human eye, that is just natural. So when Jacques Kallis says that 99 percent of the players don’t support it, I don’t think he’s correct.”
Second innings centurion Rudolph was the greatest benefactor of the DRS system in this past Test. Rudolph survived an lbw appeal in the first innings when Bracewell overstepped, but importantly was called back when Dar had upheld the initial appeal from Bracewell again. Rudolph survived and went to score his first Test century since 2006. – Cape Times