The sledging factor
Sledging is part and parcel of the international game. These days with the availability of technology and the involvement of the umpires one cannot get away with as much as in the past, but it still happens regularly on the international circuit.
The home of sledging is without a doubt Australia. The Aussies have used this strategy since the days of Richie Benaud. They have developed this tactic very effectively over the years. Having been in the Australian dressing room for many years, I know exactly how they plan their verbal onslaughts.
They are good at determining early which players are vulnerable to sledging. The Aussies don't use sledging as a way of blowing off steam or venting anger or frustration. It is a definite tactic to break the concentration of the opponent. They are clever enough to realise that some opposition players are likely to concentrate harder and be more determined when they are sledged. Generally they will say nothing to such an opponent. They may even try some reverse psychology and compliment such a player.
They zero in if a player bites back or if they feel the opponent goes to pieces. They also love having a shot at the opposing captain. Their philosophy is that if they unsettle the opposing captain it will have an effect on the rest of the team. That's why they will continue to target Graeme Smith as the series goes on.
It is important that the Proteas discuss as a group how they will respond to this factor during the remaining two test matches. Cricket is an individual sport in a team framework. For this very reason one cannot adopt a blanket approach for every team member. What is important though is that each player has a coping method to deal with this tactic.
The ideal scenario is to find a way whereby sledging brings out the best in the Protea players. The Aussies are good at dishing it out. They don't like it however when the shoe is on the other foot. Some of their players go to pieces just as much as anyone else. It is important to look the Aussies in the eye and take them on at all times. This can be done in different ways that suit each individual.
One thing is for sure: one cannot afford to show weakness in this respect during the heat of battle. If the Baggy Greens see any sign of apprehension when the flack is flying, they climb all over the opponent they perceive to be weak.
Most of the South African players have been through all this before. A team doesn't get to No 1 in the world without being able to withstand intimidation. The good thing is South Africa has the fire power – and a lot more so than the Aussies. There is nothing wrong with turning the tables on the Australians and intimidating them from the first ball. I am hoping that Dale and the rest of the boys will get stuck in and finish what the Aussies started.