Time for Proteas to try out new blood?
The two-match test series between South Africa and Australia was living proof that test cricket is still alive and well. There is nothing like the drama of test cricket and both matches never had a dull moment.
Fortunes fluctuated during the two test matches. The contests were unpredictable and exciting. It is such a pity that there wasn't a third and deciding match. On the whole, the one-all result was a fair reflection of the way the teams played.
In the cold light of day Australia shaded the tour by winning the one-day series and levelling the test series at the Wanderers. This was, at best, an Australian team in transition. They were a long way off the strongest Aussie team that frequented our shores since isolation ended. Like any other Australian team they showed resolve in adversity by coming back from a disastrous second test to win against the odds at the Wanderers.
There is no doubt that the Proteas will be disappointed with the outcome of the test series. They were without question the stronger outfit. They would have expected to beat an average Australian team on home soil. The South African team were brilliant in Cape Town during the first test match where they came bak from the brink to win in incredible fashion.
They had an opportunity during the second test when they had the Australian attack at their mercy after winning the toss, only to collapse radically which let the Aussies back into the contest.
The first innings batting collapse was without question the catalyst for the defeat during the thrilling second test.
Where to now for the Proteas? They have an easy summer ahead. First they take on Sri Lanka and then New Zealand. They should beat both teams at a canter. The question is how will the South African selectors and coach Gary Kirsten view the upcoming two series?
Will they go with the same players and allow the status quo to remain knowing that the current group will win anyway or will they make some changes now in order to find a combination that will take the team forward?
Surely the latter approach is the more sensible one. Sri Lanka and New Zealand provide the ideal opportunity to bring untried players into the team in key positions.
Three new players came into the team during this series. Out of the three, Vernon Philander was the major find for South Africa during this tour. He was in an emerging team that I took to Australia a few years ago and he was excellent there. He won the player of the series award at that tournament. I wasn’t surprised that he made a successful adjustment to test cricket quickly. He should be a terrific asset in time to come. He has the skill and temperament. The only area he continually has to work on is his fitness.
I regard Jacques Rudolph as a new player because he has been out of international action for five years. Rudolph looked good but ended up flattering only to deceive. He got starts in both innings during the second test as well as a start in the first innings of the first test but unfortunately couldn't convert any of the starts into a big score. The key about opening is exactly that -- turning good starts into big scores. It happens often enough that openers get out cheaply to good deliveries against the new ball so when the time comes successful test openers make every good start a winner in this respect.
There are two issues surrounding Rudolph's game that he has to look at. The first is that his front foot doesn't always get close enough to the ball when defending early in his innings. In other words, he doesn't always get far enough forward in defence. The second issue is that he has adopted an approach where he looks to score off every ball.
There is nothing wrong with an aggressive approach at the top of the order, but an overly aggressive approach like Rudolph is adopting at the moment will lead to a lack of consistency at test level. He needs to tone his attacking mind-set down a bit. By playing each ball on its merits he will by nature still score quickly enough. The key about test batting is to occupy the crease constructively by defending the good ball well and dispatching the loose delivery. Rudolph should be persevered with against Sri Lanka. If he changes his strategy slightly the big score is just around the corner.
The jury is out on Imran Tahir. He is fun to watch but to be successful at test level he needs to spin his stock ball, which is the leg spinner, more. At the moment his googly is his only real weapon. International batsmen will work him out pretty quickly and unless his leg spinner becomes more of a threat he will battle to be the match winner at test level the South African selectors are hoping for.
The problem with his action at present is the angle of his run-up, which is too severe. Due to this acute angle he runs in the danger area in his follow through. He also closes himself off too much. A straighter run-up will improve his lines to the target more and enable him to get his right hip through the delivery. The end result will be more consistency and a bigger turning leg break.
There are plenty of issues to consider for coach Gary Kirsten and convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson. It will be a mistake to take the attitude that the Proteas were just unlucky. Now is the time to take strong decisions and stamp their authority on the team going forward. Let's hope they do.