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On the banks of the Severn River that flows past the New Road ground, the scene was of a town in holiday mode. There were picnics everywhere, ice lollies for the kids, soft-drinks for the older folk and a few pints for the bigger lads.
Inside New Road, the atmosphere was relaxed. The first optional training session since the victory at The Oval saw all the bowlers and most of the batsmen strap up and go through their paces. A sort of limb loosening exercise that wasn’t without merit, however.
This is not a cricket team that just go through the motions. When Dale Steyn conducted a 15-minute fielding drill with Allan Donald, it was done with ferocious intensity, the same with JP Duminy earlier.
There’ll be no resting on any laurels. South Africa have looked at and will further deconstruct events at The Oval as part of the plan to take the series at Headingley next week. “We’ve got to find places where we can improve, on August 2 we’ll be 0/0 again, it’s a new game, we’ll be starting afresh,” said Vernon Philander.
It’s hard to find fault with an innings and 12-run win but, in picking it apart, they may look at how they could have played better on the first day – the coaching staff and the players have said they were largely satisfied with day one’s proceedings, but there was talk from Donald about a lack of aggression, something they rectified on day two and then in England’s second innings.
Philander wouldn’t say what areas needed improving come August 2. “As a team we assess things, but I wouldn’t want to put any secrets out there with the press,” he chuckled.
However, one area that is of concern to Philander is the Duke ball. It’s not that he’s not accustomed to it – he bowled here for Somerset in May – just that for him it’s more problematic to bowl particularly once it loses its hardness, something that occurs around the 25th over of an innings. “It goes a bit soft and then you have to find new ways of taking wickets. You nick them off but it doesn’t really carry to slip or the keeper.
“So you try and bring lbw and bowled more into the game,” he remarked.
Getting the outside edge is a key component of Philander’s phenomenal success in his short Test career. The now retired Mark Boucher took 16 catches off Philander’s bowling and AB de Villiers added to that “caught keeper” stat with Alastair Cook’s wicket last Sunday.
Then there are the nine catches shared by Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, South Africa’s primary slip fieldsmen, and the importance of those nicks finding safe hands becomes clear for Philander. “With the wickets being really slow over here, when guys nick it, it doesn’t really carry to slip. When a guy nicks it and it gets taken then there’s the next guy in… it’s hard work but we’ll find a way of getting wickets.”
Hopefully there’s a bit of pace and bounce at Headingley.
What no one in the South African camp doubts is that England were stung by the outcome at The Oval. A number of players have spoken out about the severity of the defeat and James Anderson has said that a hard and honest chat was required among the players to address their failure in London before they head to Leeds.
The level of psychological scarring that occurred at The Oval will only become clear if South Africa can start scratching at the wound come the Headingley Test.
South Africa’s plan against Worcestershire at this most picturesque of grounds, adjacent to the Severn River and under the shadow of Worcester Cathedral, is to give those who didn’t have a bat at The Oval some time in the middle, and as Philander put it, “players 12 to 15 in the squad”, a run. South Africa are expected to ask to field more than 11 players to give everyone some game time.