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What has happened to South Africa?

Faisal Caesar
954   //    17 Jan 2016, 19:19 IST
Broad spitting fire at the Wanderers came as a spell of death for the home side in an evenly poised Test.

The third Test match at Johannesburg was turning out to be a compelling one. The ground staff of the New Wanderers stadium did a fantastic job to prepare a track which provided advantage both for the batsmen and bowlers and it dented the concept among the modern day cricket experts that the best tracks are those which aids well for scoring runs in plenty.

But as a matter of fact, the contest is always simmering when the ball has a bit of an edge over the bat.

The first two days provided high quality battle between the bat and ball – Steven Finn’s nagging-and-incisiveness on day 1, a fitting reply from the South African tail-enders on the following day, followed by the electrifying pace-bowling display of Hardus Viljoen and at the same time, superb exhibition of technique and temperament by Joe Root and a counter-attacking half-century by Ben Stokes against all the odds, created an ideal stage for a memorable Test match.

Broad- the spoilsport

But, Stuart Broad, and South African batsmen’s shambolic display simply spoiled everything. The Test match turned out to be a damp squib. Broad burst onto the scene like a snow leopard and attacked the South African batsmen mercilessly as if he was hungry for several days and didn’t stop until he had devoured all the Protea batsmen.

Under the overcast conditions, Broad’s red-hot face and sparkling blue eyes became a matter of fear for the South African batsmen, who had the reputation of being the best in the world, but surprisingly looked hapless on their own home soil and thus, ended up the ghost without a fight.

Stuart Broad’s spell was a bone-chilling one, but the majority didn’t expect the SA batsmen to surrender meekly. The best Test team in the world, boasting world class batsmen doesn’t drown without even trying to swim.

But, on the third day, Hasim Amla, AB de Villiers and co’s abysmal display left the fans all over the world astonished. They are not habituated to witness such a spineless South African unit.

Suddenly, this South African unit has started to give everyone the impression that they were once-a-great-side. This South African team has forgotten to attack.

Neither do they unleash glimmering batting or bowling displays  to outweigh the opposition nor their fielders are electric on the field. The current South African team is too mediocre.

The beleaguered SA side

What has happened to South Africa?

South Africa’s batting in Test cricket has been struggling since last year’s Indian tour where they were humiliated badly on rank turners, and even at home they were found wanting. The batsmen lack self-confidence and patience to occupy the crease as much as possible under trying circumstances. Maybe they have still not recovered from the torrid tour in India, which has affected their confidence level badly.

Then, the absence of two of their most experienced pace bowlers due to injuries has made a big hole in the South African bowling attack which failed to test the opposition when it was needed the most.

Morne Morkel bowled well, but when it came to delivering the inspiring spells, he could not script one like Dale Steyn. It’s always hard to expect too much from the young guns like Kagiso Rabada, Hardus Viljoen and co.

Meanwhile, the senior players of the team have failed consistently to lead from the front. When the going gets tough, the younger members of the team always look up to the senior members for inspiration, and when they fail, automatically it hampers the confidence level of the youngsters, and consequently, the team starts to lose its way. 

Captaincy issues

As captains, both Amla and De Villiers have been reluctant to attack and lacked depth in their thinking.  In the crucial stages of the Test matches in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the Proteas lost their authority simply due to some poor thinking by Amla and De Villiers.

Amla should not have taken the new ball at the fag end of the day in Cape Town when the old ball had done enough keep England under pressure and using Morne Morkel with the older ball would have been helpful as he is capable of reversing the ball. Amla took the new ball and bowled his inexperienced bowlers with that. England simply murdered the Proteas attack.

While at Johannesburg, De Villiers should not have sent his fielders on the boundary when Ben Stokes still had not unleashed an assault on day 2.  Stokes hinted that he would go all guns blazing, but after being hit for just one six, it is not sensible enough to adopt a pragmatic approach.

Neither should De Villiers should have taken off Rabada and Viljoen when they were on song in the first session of day 3. It led to easing off the pressure a bit and England were able to take a valuable lead. Even though, it didn’t matter much.  

A dismal slide

The South African team is showing signs of a dismal slide and it can be attributed to a certain emptiness in the leadership role, lack of confidence, defensive thinking and failure of the seniors to lead from the front.
It can be assumed that this team is going through a transition period and such periods are always tough for any side. This young South African team has some promising cricketers and in the course of time, they are supposed to bounce back and claim their supremacy in world cricket.

What they need is a leader and a smart thinker to show them the way. It is heartening to see that De Villiers has shrugged off his reluctance regarding captaining the Test side and committed to Test cricket after this heavy defeat. South Africa can breathe a sigh of relief. 

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