I am a passionate supporter of South African cricket. I prefer to be positive, it’s hard not to be with the team we have at the moment, but there is always room for improvement.
South Africa destroyed New Zealand in the first Test at Newlands by an innings and 27 runs. They bowled the Kiwis out for 45 before lunch and never looked back. But it wasn’t perfect.
It didn’t cost them, but South Africa dropped three catches in New Zealand’s second innings. The diving chance missed by Kallis was forgiveable but the two put down in the gully by Elgar and Petersen were bad errors.
Gully is tough. Catches can come hard off the middle off the bat, slide quickly off the edge, seem to loop off the splice, or even screw off a leading edge aimed through mid-wicket.
But with Steyn, Philander and Morkel in action gully is a key wicket-taking area for South Africa, and they need to make sure it’s secure before these missed chances start to matter.
It’s very easy to accuse players of being complacent, and almost impossible to prove. And honestly I can’t imagine a greater test of focus than bowling the opposition out for 45.
But it did look like Amla and Kallis were playing just a little too freely with their wickets. Both should’ve scored hundreds. Neither did.
It took Australia just 16 balls and it cost them zero runs to find a gaping hole in his technique. Twice. He managed 52 balls and 21 runs better against New Zealand in Cape Town, but looked streaky while doing it.
Admittedly, he’s not the first top order batsman to struggle against the short stuff. Dean Brownlie scored a century at Newlands playing the short ball like a sub-continental tail-ender.
And it’s unfair to expect everyone to take to Test cricket immediately – Faf du Plessis began like the proverbial burning house, but both Kallis and Amla were slow starters at this level.
Still, Elgar is a weak link at the moment. He’s quite good, probably good enough to get a few runs on a tired track in Port Elizabeth against New Zealand, but he hasn’t looked like an international cricketer in the few innings he’s had.
Given the problems this otherwise outstanding bowling unit has had with no balls in the last year, they should by rights be patting each other on the back for only delivering a single one in the first Test. But one is one too many.
Vernon Philander won’t play in Port Elizabeth after aggravating the hamstring strain that nearly made him miss the first Test at Newlands. Philander also missed the second Test in Australia with a back strain and the second Test at home against Sri Lanka with a sore knee.
Jacques Kallis batted injured in the second Test in Australia and only just passed fit in time to play as a batsman only in the third. He also suffered with neck and back spasms at various times in 2012. Maybe it’s unfair to expect a 37 year old man who has faced 28,335 balls and bowled 19,504 himself to be 100% fit all the time, but that’s what I’m doing.
Injury is a part of sport, and most players will tell you they carry injuries for seasons at a time. In 2012 a few key players missed the odd match, and that was fine. But if the medical team is taking chances with players’ long term fitness for the sake of getting them on the field in the short term, then we’re asking for trouble.
Some might say that the perfect Test match is any one you win. At a binary level, that’s fair enough. But when a side can be as good as this South African side could be, we want to see them do it all the time.
Dedicated to the memory of the man who introduced me to “the hard taskmaster”.
Tony Greig, 1946-2012