Johannesburg - Elgar said he is still struggling to understand how his side played so badly in the first Test against New Zealand.
Johannesburg - Naturally a two and a half day blowout will lead to a lot of questions and theories attempting to understand the reasons for such a defeat.
The first Test at Hagley Oval in Christchurch is a black mark on South African cricket. However, what makes it so incredible is that no one saw it coming. There really were no clues beforehand that the Proteas would bat for just 91 overs in total, not score a hundred runs in one innings and barely score a hundred runs in the other. Seven catches were dropped six of them easy. The bowling, after the first 30 overs of New Zealand’s innings, would have been deemed embarrassing by a school XI’s second team.
That kind of performance was not foreseen. In fact, it would have been more understandable had India won the Boxing Day Test in Centurion in such a manner.
At least then, there were excuses; no Test cricket in six months, the Social Justice and Nation-building report was still fresh in everyone’s minds and so it was a distraction, India was a highly motivated, talent-laden side, that was confident after a year of winning big matches away from home. South Africa is still a new unit and while internally, they felt they’d already turned a corner, providing tangible evidence thereof against that Indian team, seemed beyond them.
And then they won both Tests and One-Day series’. New Zealand didn’t look as daunting a prospect anymore, certainly not without the retired Ross Taylor, the injured Kane Williamson and Trent Boult who was on paternity leave.
Dean Elgar spent Friday night trying to ponder why his team had played so badly, and still hadn’t found any answers by the time the last rites were delivered by the brilliant Tim Southee at 2.35pm local time on Saturday.
“Hopefully, in the next day or two I can process, and give a clearer answer,” Elgar responded when asked why South Africa had gone from playing as well as they did just over a month ago against India, to the performance at Hagley Oval.
Two players were missing; Keegan Petersen, the man of the series against India and Lungi Ngidi, who sustained a back problem at training. But that is not enough to account for the bad performance.
There appears to have been a heated debate about the composition of the starting XI. While the selectors were united on the seven-four batter/bowler split, with Keshav Maharaj being dropped on account of spin being ineffective at the venue, the identity of the extra batter wasn’t unanimous.
Selection convenor Victor Mpitsang pushed for Zubayr Hamza, saying that despite him being parachuted into the squad at the 11th hour following Petersen’s positive test for Covid, Hamza was the batting replacement and not Ryan Rickelton, who Mpitsang regarded as back-up in the batter/keeper spot.
Coach Mark Boucher didn’t agree with that, stating after the second day’s play that Rickelton’s statistics this season for the Lions in the Four-Day series where he averages 118.25 means he’s as much a batter as anyone else in the squad.
Without Maharaj, Petersen and Ngidi, South Africa’s racial targets for the starting side in Christchurch were well below the six black player figure required by Cricket SA even though officially targets are measured in percentages over the course of a season. Had Rickelton played instead of Hamza, there would only have been three black players in the starting team. Mpitsang said fulfilling the target was not the reason Hamza played, but rather that he had Test experience.
In one sense that is important. Had Rickelton played the Proteas would have had three debutants, and all in important spots in the team.
Perhaps the most telling aspect was the severe quarantine regulations. The team were isolated for 10 days.
South Africa only moved out of quarantine three days before the start of the Test. However Elgar described that as a “weak excuse,” but added that a warm-up match might have helped get players into better rhythm.
Given the severity of the defeat, the Proteas must be wondering if India was some kind of ‘one hit wonder’. Only they can prove that not to be true, and they get the opportunity when the second match starts on Friday.