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WHEN a player, or a team, are doing badly, critics can have a field day suggesting all sorts of reasons for the malaise.
These reasons can be sound or fallacious, but they will be given credence because the team, or the player, are firmly on the back foot.
South Africa have had a poor tour of Australia so far, particularly their bowlers. In the tour match against Australia A they conceded 480 runs, against Australia in the first Test it was 565, and yesterday it was 482 with a considerably higher total likely to have been put on the board today.
As it stands, that’s a total of 1527 runs for the loss of 17 wickets, an average of 89 runs per wicket.
Those really aren’t the kind of numbers that the so-called best attack in world cricket can feel proud about.
So it isn’t surprising that the pundits, whether sympathetic or otherwise, are coming up with reasons for the team’s loss of form with the ball.
First off, it’s the pitches, a reason that holds some validity. The pitch for the warm-up match at the Sydney Cricket Ground was like suet pudding, while the outfield looked like a beach. At The Gabba, the strip surprised everyone by its slowness and placidity. And yesterday at the Adelaide Oval the surface was, as Aussie coach Mickey Arthur said last week, “the best pitch for batting in the world over the first three days”.
To his credit, coach Gary Kirsten didn’t try to make excuses when he tried to face up to his team’s problems yesterday. “It was a tough day,” he said. “We didn’t really bowl consistently well and maintain pressure on the batsmen after we’d had a good start and were in a position to really do something.”
He was then questioned about the team’s fabled “break”, that magical four-day period when they dispersed to various parts of Australia for a little R&R. The suggestion now is that if they’d spent those days practising and working with their physios, they would have had a better day and Jacques Kallis and Vernon Philander wouldn’t have been injured.
If I can put my 10 cents worth into the pot, I would make three points: first, South Africa have been playing a lot of cricket over the last year, comprising matches against Australia (November 2011), Sri Lanka (December 2011 and January 2012), New Zealand (March 2012), England (July-September), the T20 World Cup (September-October), the Champions League (October) and now Australia again. Perhaps they are a little stale.
The second point is that the South Africans may have been drained by the intensity of their experience in England and that they are struggling to maintain their momentum from that time.
It is, after all, easier to build yourself up mentally to storm the citadel of the No1 country in the world (England) than it is to defend your status on a series by series basis.
Finally, they’ve had rotten luck. They lost JP Duminy through injury in the first Test, Vernon Philander in the second Test and perhaps Jacques Kallis as well. If this is bad luck it could also be what happens to players after a long spell of intensely competitive action.
All these reasons may well be wrong, and that there are other causes at play, but there is no doubt that the Proteas, particularly their bowlers, have looked flat in Australia and haven’t shown the intensity, willpower and patience required to prise out batsmen on true surfaces.
All South African fans will be hoping the team prove me wrong by somehow securing a draw in Adelaide and then repeating their victory in Perth of four years ago. I wish them well.