Some concern over bowling department
The first test match is something of the past and South Africa have some things to think about over the next four days while the players and the support staff are on a break.
The policy of the coaching team is to allow the players to get away from cricket when the opportunity presents itself. So the players are choosing a range of activities, including golf and fishing, to take their mind off the game. The coaching staff also get a reprieve and are free to fill the downtime as they wish.
The team will re convene in Adelaide roughly four days before the second test for a period of hopefully intense preparation. During the brief time away from the game I am sure players and coaching staff alike will reflect on the first test in an effort to find ways to improve before the all-important second encounter.
The biggest area of concern around this match for the Proteas will be the bowling department, which has rarely been scrutinised over recent times.
The South African pace attack has been in fine form and has presented a formidable challenge to all opposition teams over the last twelve months. They were expected to do the same again at the Gabba – and indeed, they did so at the start of the Australian innings when Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel bowled superbly on day two of the match. They had the Australian top order in all sorts of trouble and had the Morne Morkel no-ball not prevented the Ed Cowan dismissal late on day two, who knows what would have happened.
Steyn and Morkel bowled well enough for the remainder of the match as well. It is fair to say that they tired on a surface that flattened out significantly. This was also due to inactivity since the England tour. They will be better off in Adelaide after working hard during this test match.
The problem was the support bowling. The decision not to play a specialist spinner was a mistake. History at the Gabba suggests that specialist spinners have a role to play there due to the bounce. It didn't help that JP Duminy's tour ended at the Gabba due to a freak injury. This left Graeme Smith with limited options.
The problem was that Vernon Philander and Rory Kleinveldt didn't hit their straps. Big Vern can be excused for being below his best. He had such a spectacular start to his test career that expectation is always there for him to run through the opposition. The game doesn't work that way. Sooner or later he will have to do the hard yards and it may just be on this tour where the surfaces perhaps won't suit his style of bowling that well. This experience is good for his character and development. It should improve his skill set.
Rory Kleinveldt was disappointing. He needs to get a lot fitter and stronger if he is to compete successfully at test level. He had a tentative start and never really recovered.
Jacques Kallis was used sparingly during this match. I expect that to become a pattern with him going forward. So much emphasis is placed on his batting that the South African camp is unlikely to want to bowl him a lot in the future.
The biggest bowling issue that has to be resolved is the no-ball problem. There is now a dedicated feed designed specifically for no-balls that goes directly to the third umpire. Bowlers will get away with nothing in that regard now.
The solution is simple: bowlers have to work on a strategy where there their take-off point of reference is consistent and allows them to land well behind the front line. The start of the run-up is not the issue. Moving the starting point back or forward rarely solves the problem. It is the take-off point next to the umpire that is crucial. Once that is correct and consistent, the no-ball problem is gone.
Bowling coach Allan Donald has a lot of work to do in this area. I have little sympathy in this area. It is a lack of discipline and poor practice habits that leads to this problem. In test cricket one cannot afford to give top-order batsmen second chances. It is incredibly demotivating for a team when a batsman is dismissed off a no-ball. Hopefully this problem will be rectified before Adelaide.
On the batting front things looks solid enough. The Amla-Kallis combination in the middle order continues to be absolutely brilliant. The debate around AB de Villiers regarding batting and keeping will rage until he comes up with a big score during a test match when he fills the keeper role.
Jacques Rudolph is again under pressure to hold on to his position. He wasn't convincing in this match but may well enjoy the batting-friendly surface in Adelaide a lot more. At this early stage it does look as if Faf du Plessis will get his opportunity in Adelaide. The Proteas have to play a specialist spinner there so the combination is likely to be the one that has been successful for the Proteas in recent times.