The tour that can make or break a cricketer

By Pat Symcox

To believe that South Africa are now well-prepared to take on the Aussies after a convincing win at home against Bangladesh is naive in the extreme.

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would battle to beat my local ski-boat club on a bad day.

To hear players and coaches stating how well they played against these palookas is really pathetic. One has to question how much longer these farcical adventures can be allowed to continue.

Graeme Smith and his team arrive in Australia with all to play for. They carry the hopes of many who love to hate anything Australian in sport.

Moreover, we all believe that, following the retirements of Warne and McGrath, the Aussies are ready for the plucking. So much so that some will argue it is the weakest Aussie set-up since Kerry Packer took all the players out of their system. Somehow, Mickey Arthur has to ensure his players don't believe this.

The first Test is in Perth in just over a week. With just a hit-and-giggle warm-up game planned before the Test, South Africa probably know their line-up already. If they don't it is already too late. The WACA is known for its bounce. It shouldn't scare Smith and his team at all.

In my mind there are four components that need to be running hot if we are to climb in early and establish some dominance right at the start of the tour. Of course many other facets inter-play with these but aren't as critical.

The first is the top four batters. Smith, McKenzie, Amla (pictured right) and Kallis will need to ensure they build solid foundations. Two of the four cannot have a poor series. Smith being the only left-hander becomes even more important in the context of the strategy.

All four are able to play competently off the back-foot. Hashim will need to leave the ball well - sometimes leaving the ball is as important as hitting it.

Kallis is a great player but in recent times has lost his way. He has become heavy-footed early on in his innings and tends to play across the line more than he did in the past. Brett Lee will have noted it.

The second aspect is the opening spell of 12 overs. Too many times Steyn and Ntini have wasted the new ball opportunity and allowed opposing batsmen to settle. They need to hit their lengths early.

It will help Morne Morkel and Kallis after that. It sets the tone and creates pressure. Shaun Pollock did that better than anyone in the world but he is no longer there.

Bowling coach Vince Barnes has been part of the coaching staff for so long and this tour will shape his contribution and even his destiny.

Combining with the accurate bowling comes the catching behind the wicket. All Test series played in either South Africa or Australia are decided by one or two opportunities either taken or missed.

With bounce and pace available in Perth, he who catches best will go close to winning. No team can afford to give players like Ponting, Hussey, Smith or Kallis a second chance. Both teams stack up well in this department. The previous tour saw us drop so many catches that it became a comedy of errors.

Finally, the ability of the team not to get side-tracked into off-field issues plays a huge role in ensuring they stay totally focused. It means accepting poor umpiring decisions.

It means handling abuse from spectators. It means being humble at all times towards the media and saying the right things at the right time.

Playing against Australia in their backyard is for any cricketer a challenge that can either define your career or break it. Just ask Daryll Cullinan. The other extreme is Fanie de Villiers who bowled us to victory in Sydney.

What a ride we are in for!




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