Lungani Zama.

Old habits die hard. In every walk of life, and even when logic dictates otherwise, the habits of old men are very difficult to bend.

A case in point occurred in Colombo this week, as the Proteas defied all logic and went with a pace-heavy attack.

There had been murmurings of the possibility of the South Africans somehow going against the grain, and throwing all of their slow bowlers into the mix.

Just imagine that for a minute. Tabraiz Shamsi and Shaun von Berg could have done infinitely more than mix drinks this weekend.

Indeed, they might have won South Africa the match and squared the series. It was abundantly clear in Galle that their hosts would not be leaving any grass on any surface.

More than that, they knew that from four years ago, when Sri Lanka tried in vain to square the two-Test series then.

And yet, for whatever reason, SA’s wise men reconciled themselves with the fact that they would go back to their own strengths, and try and somehow bully Sri Lanka on their own, powdery patch. We all know how that is going to end.

Ottis Gibson has put his hand up, and admitted that it was a mistake. The problem with professional hindsight, however, is that it changes nothing.

The horse has bolted, and South Africa, once world cricket’s best road-trippers, have lost yet another duel on the road.

The hard shell that used to be the batting has become a crème brûlée, with all resistance crumbling very quickly when the top is cracked open.

That used to the cornerstone of the South African success story, but even teams like Sri Lanka are preying on that weakness now.

South Africa’s big players need to stand up, more so than ever now. On the road, especially in Asia, they have gone backwards.

Gibson’s biggest challenge – World Cup aside – is to retain that competitive edge when they go to all corners of the world, and more so on surfaces that don’t play into their hands.

In an era of specialists for almost everything the game can throw at a team, it is a bit surprising that the Proteas are yet to employ the particular services of a spin batting coach.

It is clearly an art that they have not got to grips with, and more teams will keep taking pace off the ball when they meet.

Fluent stroke-players on hard surfaces – even seaming wickets – are being reduced to players who poke around nervously against humble finger spin.

That has to be a concern for Gibson and the selectors, because spin is distinctly in fashion around the world.

Keshav Maharaj’s first-innings haul made a mockery of the team selection, as he offered a telling illustration of what they could have had.

Keshav Maharaj has shown what the Proteas have missed out on by picking just one spinner in Colombo. Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

South Africa’s attitude towards spin has always been a bit off-ish.

Imran Tahir will tell you that he was never given a fair shake in the Test side, while many others never even reached that level.

The latest in that ‘unlucky’ club was Von Berg. He came in for tap in the warm-up game, but he will probably never make another Test squad.

Age and circumstances will see to that, and he will forever wonder what could have been if he had got his moment in Colombo.

South Africa were outsiders for the second Test as soon as they capitulated in Galle. Those desperate circumstances could have been used as an excuse to try something completely new, and go in with an attack of three spinners.

Three front-line spinners. Can you imagine all those former fast men, turning in their grassy graves?

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that those twirlers would have fared a lot better than the hurlers the Proteas went with.

Old habits. They die hard. But, sometimes, they simply have to die, in order for the survival of other things.

 

Sunday Tribune

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