The South African men’s team’s words have been more impactful than their deeds during the Test series against India.
Players and coaches who have been wheeled out for the media over the last fortnight have all talked of taking lessons and assessing the series in a bigger picture.
Captain Faf du Plessis said each individual needs to search within themselves for answers; Temba Bavuma said his best may not be good enough for the highest level; and yesterday Kagiso Rabada remarked that India had bowled better as a collective than the South Africans in the second Test in Pune. Arguably, conditions there were probably more suited to South Africa than at any stage in the last two series between the two teams in India.
There’s understandably been a lot of doom and gloom about the national team, especially in the wake of that capitulation in the second Test, which was lost by an innings and 137 runs.
Saying they’ve learned lessons is one thing, going out onto the field an executing is another. The Proteas have been extremely poor in that regard during this series.
“It’s never easy coming to India, it’s been a huge learning curve, but we need to challenge ourselves to try and execute what we have learnt. That’s the challenge,” said Rabada.
With the series lost - although 40 points are still available for the World Test Championship - South Africa may be tempted to make some changes for the third Test starting in Ranchi on Saturday.
Based on three of his four dismissals, Theunis de Bruyn must wonder if he’s deserving of another opportunity, especially with Zubayr Hamza waiting in the wings, while Keshav Maharaj’s shoulder injury and subsequent return home means Dane Piedt is probably set for a second go at the Indians in this series.
The team’s management will have to carefully assess opener Aiden Markram’s state of mind after he bagged a pair in Pune. There’ll be a temptation to leave him out, but this should be an opportunity for him to show some mental strength and illustrate that he is capable of overcoming adversity.
“We’ve been put under immense pressure, I don’t know if we can be put under much more pressure than that,” said Rabada.
Markram has been in India since August, initially as part of the 15-player spin camp and then in the SA ‘A’ side. He scored a century in the second match against India ‘A’ and another in warm-up match before the first Test., so he doesn’t have to think back too far to draw confidence.
Bavuma is the other big name who’s struggled and perhaps this is the series that will indicate to him that No 5 is a better spot in the batting order for him than four.
For all the extra pressure he has placed on himself, Bavuma looked good in that second innings in Pune, and should build on that in Ranchi.
Rabada, meanwhile, insists there is still a lot South Africa can take away from the series. “We believe we can win, we really do,” he said.
“It will be great to back it up with a good performance before we leave. That will actually reassure us, it will give us much more confidence knowing that we have played here and won.
“There is the belief, that’s what makes us quite a tight unit. The belief is necessary and for us as players it’s then about implementing the game plan and certain skills.”