Proteas may just be a bit underdone
I have just returned from the UK and I must admit I am a bit concerned by the preparation time the Proteas have before the first match of the all-important test series against England. The England team have been flat-out at work over the past two months. They had a test series against the West Indies and are currently busy with a one-day series against the same team. They have also got some one-day matches coming up against Australia.
The Proteas, on the other hand, have been on a break. A number of players participated in the IPL and needed some time to recharge their batteries. The players who weren't in the IPL haven't done anything in terms of cricket preparation. The team had a golf day last weekend which was apparently fun and I guess a good team-building exercise. They also have some T20 matches coming up in Zimbabwe this week, but neither of the above assignments is adequate preparation for success in the UK.
Compounding the problem is the fact that once the Proteas get to the UK, they only have a two-day match against Somerset and a three-day affair against Kent as warm-up games before the first test. This is by no means ideal. The weather in the UK has been abysmal and there is every chance that one or both of these practice matches will be curtailed by the elements.
The Protea management group will have to play the proposed test team in both games. It takes time to get used to conditions in the UK, even for a group of players as experienced as some of the South African players are.
Due to the inclement weather the pitches are pretty damp at the moment. Seam bowlers are revelling in these conditions. There is a lot of seam movement available for the bowlers and the surfaces are on the slow side. All of this is pretty foreign to South African players.
The other interesting thing is that the first test match on this tour will be played at the Oval – a ground normally reserved for the last test match of a series. England has a pretty good record there during final test matches of a series so the reversal in playing order may actually benefit the Proteas.
If summer finally does arrive in the UK over the next two weeks, the Oval playing surface will offer bounce and some pace. Conditions under normal circumstances there are not too foreign for southern-hemisphere players. If the current weather pattern continues however, even the Oval pitch will be slow and offer a tennis-ball type bounce.
I fully understand the problems of scheduling these days. It is difficult to have as many warm-up matches as teams used to have in the past. However, since this is such an important tour, I hope CSA hasn't made a mistake in agreeing to a tour itinerary that doesn't offer the South African contingent much time to acclimatise.
The last thing one needs on a tour of this magnitude is to be at a disadvantage going into the first test match. It is a three-match series and the first test is crucial.
The South African players will have to make use of every possible opportunity to get time in the middle under match conditions, as well as spend as much time as possible in the practice arena.
Both Gary Kirsten and Allan Donald will be only too aware of this. They have both played in England enough to know the value of preparation under English conditions. I am sure they will do everything in their power to avoid this potential pitfall.