Bulls and Boks

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - VATA NGOBENI

THE FAR right net at the prac­tice fa­cil­ity here, was no place for a bats­man yes­ter­day morn­ing as South Africa’s seam­ers set about find­ing their rhythm and form ahead of to­mor­row’s open­ing Test against Eng­land.

Re­gard­less of who was fac­ing them, Ver­non Phi­lan­der, Kag­iso Rabada and Morne Morkel were mak­ing their bat­ting team­mates hop, skip, fend and miss. Coach Rus­sell Domingo smiled, as did bowl­ing coach Charl Langeveldt. The only peo­ple not smil­ing were the bats­men.

That’s a good sign, be­cause for South Africa to win this se­ries it’s on their bowlers that they’ll be lean­ing. It’s been the bowlers who’ve been the most con­sis­tent el­e­ment for the South African team in the last 12 months. In that pe­riod SA have won seven out of 11 Tests. A sign of how strong the bowl­ing has been, is that the Proteas have es­chewed util­is­ing an es­tab­lished new ball com­bi­na­tion and in fact had six dif­fer­ent pairs to open the bowl­ing.

Some of that was by de­sign, some was forced on them, but it says a lot about the bowlers’ ver­sa­til­ity and adapt­abilty that – re­gard­less of who takes the ‘new nut’ – South Africa has re­mained dan­ger­ous.

Eng­land will start the first Test with three-left han­ders in their top or­der, some­thing that won’t dis­please Morkel and Phi­lan­der and it would be no sur­prise that they took the new ball. Five years ago, at Lord’s, Morkel took the new ball ahead of Dale Steyn, caus­ing much buzz among the ex­perts, only for Morkel to re­move An­drew Strauss with the third ball of the match. A sim­i­lar start to­mor­row would go down very well with stand-in skip­per Dean El­gar.

He’d have been pleased to see Phi­lan­der charg­ing in with real venom yes­ter­day. Be­sides his su­perb skill, Phi­lan­der brings a forthright­ness to the squad.

“We can’t fo­cus on what’s hap­pened in the past, that’s gone,” he said about a tour in which South Africa has lost ODI and T20 se­ries’ to Eng­land and were bounced out of the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy in the group stage. “There’s a lot of fresh new en­ergy in the squad, there’s a lot for us to look for­ward to.

“This is a to­tally new for­mat, we start 0-0 (to­mor­row), the boys are all ex­cited about this. It’s a for­mat we do re­ally well in. Play­ing against the stronger na­tions brings out the best in us, we’ve got a hell of a record away from home and hope­fully we con­tinue that.”

English con­di­tions suit Phi­lan­der, as does the Duke ball. It re­tains its shine longer than it’s Kook­aburra cousin that’s used in SA. Phi­lan­der took 12 wick­ets in three Tests in 2012, seven com­ing in the se­ries de­cider at Lord’s, in­clud­ing a sec­ond in­nings five-for.

The fa­mous slope that runs across the ground causes him no dis­com­fort and he’s learnt to use it to his ben­e­fit.

“It does pro­vide a wicket-tak­ing op­tion, es­pe­cially when (the pitch) gets flat, when you can use the slope to run the ball back in and even more so if there’s a bit of move­ment (through the air).”

While the South African bowlers seem ca­pa­ble of do­ing their jobs, the same level of con­fi­dence can’t be at­tached to the bats­men. They’ll carry a debu­tant in Heino Kuhn and a mid­dle or­der bats­man in The­u­nis de Bruyn, who’s just played one Test. The lat­ter has not had good form in Eng­land for SA ‘A’ and in the warm-up game at Worces­ter last week­end he made nought. In ad­di­tion two se­nior bats­men; Hashim Amla and JP Du­miny have been in­con­sis­tent in the last year.

Phi­lan­der and the bowl­ing unit will have to set the tone for the tourists against an Eng­land side that has plenty to pon­der in terms of the se­lec­tion of its start­ing team. They look set to play six bowlers – three of whom, in­clud­ing Ben Stokes, will be all-rounders. The ques­tion is what the bal­ance will be – four seam­ers and two spin­ners or five seam­ers and one spin­ner.

Ei­ther way, it will give their new cap­tain, Joe Root, plenty of op­tions and pro­vide their bat­ting with a lot of depth. WARRICK Gelant’s ex­ploits and tal­ent may have not been enough to save the Bulls from the dis­as­ters of Su­per Rugby this year, but his sud­den re­turn to form will be piv­otal to the team’s late resur­gence.

And the 22-year-old Gelant again proved his worth with a pol­ished per­for­mance against the Sharks last week. Gelant’s re­turn to form comes as no sur­prise af­ter he re­minded those who had for­got­ten about him with a five star per­for­mance for the SA ‘A’ side in their match against the French Bar­bar­ians at Or­lando Sta­dium two weeks ago, when the Knysna-born full­back scored a hat-trick.

That per­for­mance was fol­lowed up by an­other stand­out show­ing against the Sharks in Dur­ban to help his team to an un­ex­pected win.

Gelant has at­trib­uted the turn­around in re­sults for the Bulls, to the con­fi­dence many of their play­ers have re­turned with from na­tional duty last month.

While the Bulls’ resur­gence has come too late for them to mount a chal­lenge for the Su­per Rugby play-offs, it will be im­por­tant for the team’s fu­ture am­bi­tions.

“I think we had this June break and some of the guys went away and came back with new con­fi­dence. I think, for us, it worked out and for us at the Bulls to play as a team is what we have been search­ing for this whole time,” said Gelant,

“We’ve changed en­vi­ron­ments and the guys who were there (Spring­boks and SA ‘A’) have been work­ing hard and ex­cited to play in those en­vi­ron­ments. We’ve been search­ing for this mo­ment and some peo­ple will say it is the en­vi­ron­ment and some will say it is the coach ... I think the guys got some en­ergy as they were split into dif­fer­ent groups. Some guys were in Mau­ri­tius and had a great tour­na­ment (World Club 10s) which they won, the guys at the Boks were great there and those with the ‘A’ team. So, I think ev­ery­one com­ing from hard work­ing en­vi­ron­ments, ev­ery­one came back to work for each other.”

While the South­ern Kings will be wary of the threats that the Bulls as a unit will pose on Satur­day, they will pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the likes of Jan Ser­fontein and Gelant.

An age group star, who has played for the SA Schools, Ju­nior Spring­boks and Spring­bok Sev­ens sides, Gelant, is not think­ing too far ahead and for now will fo­cus on pro­duc­ing more match win­ning per­for­mances for the Bulls.

“I got my chances at the Bulls at a very young age and my dreams are not think­ing too far ahead. My goal has al­ways been to play well ... this the team means a lot to me.

“I think a per­son will never be the per­fect player and I must keep on work­ing on my strengths, as much as I work on my weak­nesses. I strive to get bet­ter in the things I do well but more im­por­tantly to make my weak­nesses strong.”

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