LONDON – South Africa have played very poorly in this third Test, assistant coach Adrian Birrell acknowledged on Sunday night.
The side’s dreadfully inconsistent batting is a long-term issue that will take some time to resolve.
But the bowlers – bar the gutsy Vernon Philander – have not been at their best in the match either, failing to exploit favourable conditions on day one, and then letting England off too easily in their second innings.
It’s left them have to produce a rearguard action on the final day that will require immense doses of luck, allied with skill and concentration, with just six wickets in hand against a rampant England bowling line-up.
“We didn’t bowl very well on the first day; we got behind the eight-ball. Their 171/4 on that wicket was a good score,” said Birrell.
“We were compromised by Vernon not being there and doing what he does well. Their first innings was an outstanding first innings on a pitch that was quite bowler-friendly.”
Without Philander’s control, the Proteas failed to maintain any sort of pressure on England’s batsmen for a sustained period.
The main culprit has been Chris Morris, who’s leaked 161 runs in 28 overs in this match, bowling just one maiden.
But even Morné Morkel – who’s bowled some superb spells – and Kagiso Rabada have lacked the consistency South Africa have required, especially once Philander was inhibited by that viral infection.
“He is that type of bowler – he bowls bad balls and in between that, he bowls fantastic balls, and the wickets that he’s got have come with almost unplayable deliveries,” Birrell said of Morris.
The dismissals of Joe Root and Alastair Cook in the second Test came with a pair of the best balls bowled by a South African this year, and also in the middle of a spell in which his control surprised even Faf du Plessis.
That has not been the case in this Test, however.
“He’ll give a little bit to get those unplayable deliveries. Hopefully there’s more of them and less of the bad stuff. That’s him as a player... you don’t want to inhibit someone so much that his flair goes away or his X-factor goes away,” Birrell said.
“He’s conscious of it, so are we, and obviously he’ll work very hard.”
Rabada has yet to make an impact in the two Tests he’s played, aside from picking up that suspension.
He did appear to have better rhythm in his first spell from the Vauxhall End on Sunday morning, but the player who ripped through the Australians in Perth last year is yet to make an appearance in this series.
“KG in spurts has bowled very well... maybe his line to the left-handers in particular was down the leg-side.
“But he’s a fantastic talent, he can blast a side open as he’s done before, so he’s got it in him, and it’s a matter of time that it’s going to happen again.”
Birrell somewhat surprisingly said the Proteas dressing-room was relatively buoyant at the end of the fourth day.
“They were the same prospects some time ago when we had to block out against India (2013), and we did a similar feat to win a series against Sri Lanka (2014)... there’s that hope that we’ve done it before,” Birrell remarked.
“Our two fantastic blockers (Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis) are out, so someone else is going to have to block.
“When you look at the players to come, we are very reliant on the two (Dean Elgar on 72 not out and Temba Bavuma on an unbeaten 16) that are in now to bat long – Vernon as well. There’s not huge expectation, but there’s hope.”