CAPE TOWN - On the grounds that South Africa have routinely won bilateral series only to foolishly peak ahead of major ICC events, perhaps the “good hiding” India have handed the Proteas in the on-going ODI series bodes well for the future, but there were still major red flags raised over the course of the past five matches.
We inspect five lessons the Proteas should have learnt from the Indian drubbing and give coach Ottis Gibson a chance to express how he sees things
1. SA’s talent pool is shallow
Although he has never quite said it himself, the consensus upon Gibson’s appointment was always going to be “Judge me after the 2019 World Cup”.
With that in mind, the understanding was that along with convenor of selectors Linda Zondi and his panel, the focus right now would be on “Vision 2019” as SA tried to widen their player base by fielding a couple of youngsters at the expense of some more experienced players.
Injuries before and during the ODI series against India meant it had to be done through necessity instead of choice, resulting in some harrowing defeats.
Gibson: “You take three of your best batsmen out of any team, they will struggle and when you do it against a very strong Indian team it has exposed us. I’ve told the lads in dressing-room we will not make excuses, but will try and get better.
“It’s been a good lesson and in a year’s time I think it will prove to have been a good lesson to learn right now. We’ve got a good hiding from India, let’s not kid ourselves about that, but it’s also given us a lot of food for thought going forward. Twelve months from now we’ll be a lot stronger for having had this experience.”
2. Over-dependence on Amla and De Kock to start well
While every team in the world seeks a positive start from their openers, the Proteas are incredibly top heavy. It is not only the openers' runs that are important for the Proteas, but the calming influence they exude at the crease allows stroke-makers like AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and David Miller to express themselves later on.
Gibson: “A lot of credit has to go to India. In almost every game, one of their top three has scored a hundred. We’ve got one hundred and when you look at the series those are the differences. Hash has got 26 hundreds in one-day cricket so he knows how to do it, but he’s not been allowed to, either by the way they have bowled or the lack of confidence in our batting.”
3. Where was the fighting “gees”?
SA cricket teams are designed to show character, guts and indomitable spirit. It is the nature of the beast. However, the capitulations - especially with the bat - during this series were embarrassing.
Gibson: “We succumbed quite easily, to be bowled out in 42 overs (on Tuesday) is very disappointing from a batting point of view. A bit more fight (is required). Even with the bowling there were some soft boundaries, which has gone on the whole series. So, just a bit more fight with the bat.
“The Indian spinners got six wickets again. In each game they have picked up at least five wickets. I know that they are very good, but we are also better than we have shown with the bat. I’d like to see us prove ourselves right in that regard.”
4. Let’s not over-burden Markram too soon
Still the only SA captain to lift an ICC World Cup trophy over his head, there is a readiness to believe that Aiden Markram can carry the world. He has certainly shown at Test level that he belongs.
However, in the shorter form of the game he is still adjusting to the pace and handing the 23-year-old the responsibility of leading a team that was still finding its feet too may just have been a bridge too far.
Gibson: “I don’t know if the whole responsibility around captaining has been too much for him but it seems he is trying to bat in a way that is not the Aiden Markram I saw in September. I’ve spoken to him about that. This was a decision for the future, not a decision for now.
“Aiden has shown all the hallmarks of someone who is going to be a good leader and with Faf (du Plessis) out we thought we could give him the opportunity. Looking back I think it was the right decision, I’m not going to second-guess myself.”
5. Proteas in a spin
SA claimed both the T20 and ODI series on their last trip to India in 2015, so it was surprising to see the batting unit surrender to the turning ball in the manner that they did.
Wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have claimed 30 wickets in the series and exposed a frailty against spin not seen in SA teams since the 1990s. It is further disturbing due to the fact that the highest wicket-taker in the One-Day Cup was also a left-arm chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi.
Gibson: “I think India has two world-class spinners and they might spin it anywhere, but we’ve got a whole year to learn to deal with that stuff. But I don’t believe it will spin that much in England next year.”