The best course of action for the Proteas is to get away entirely from cricket, which is exactly what the players and management are doing for two days.
They’d much rather still be playing of course, but having been blown away in seven sessions, they have the extra time at their disposal. The best use of that time is to do nothing - at least in terms of cricket; thinking about it, practising or even watching. Christchurch, as New Zealand’s television coverage showed, has a lot to offer. So fishing, rock-climbing, golf, punting down the Avon river, trail-running or even X-box (for those who don’t enjoy the outdoors) should be the priority. Anything but cricket.
The players are, understandably, hurting Justin Sammons, the batting consultant, said. That much is obvious. They too would be shocked by the standard of their performance in the first Test and bit like the captain Dean Elgar would have been trying to wrap their head around the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their display.
The coaches, like Sammons, head coach Mark Boucher, bowling boss, Charl Langeveldt and fielding coach Justin Ontong will be doing the same. There was no area of South Africa’s game in the first Test that could be described as good.
What Sammons did say once the players get back together on Tuesday to prepare for the second match, is that they will be reminded of the fact that they’re not suddenly terrible cricketers. “It’s one Test,” he said. “We’ve just come off a great few months and need to reference that as much as we can. The players ‘self talk’ is just as important. It’s three bad days, it doesn’t mean all of a sudden we are a bad team and players aren’t good enough.”
All Elgar could come up with in the immediate aftermath of the innings and 276-run trouncing dished out by New Zealand was that perhaps the team could have done with a warm-up game before the Test. Elgar was very clear that he didn’t want to make excuses for South Africa’s performance even as he was searching for why that performance happened. But perhaps the stringent quarantine regulations, which confined the players to their rooms, which included no contacts between them in the facility for 10 days played a bigger part than he cared to say.
They will be better for the time off in that respect too, as their bodies adjust better to the different timezone, while having had that match - albeit such a short one - and last week’s three days of training, which coupled with the work they will do this week, will have them better prepared for Friday’s start.
The first Test was the first South Africa had played at Hagley Oval, and while the conditions especially on the opening morning of the first Test were seamer friendly, they weren’t foreign to the South African players as Sammons explained. “We can trust bounce more than we can at home. It’s not unplayable.”
Boucher had also said during the first match that as a batter, he would feel more at ease playing New Zealand than South Africa.
Those points will all be reinforced when the side regathers. For now, the break from the game is the best thing for all of them.