SPORT Not such a happy New Year

Proteas face search­ing ques­tions as 2012 dawns

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - LUN­GANI ZAMA

“2011 has been a tough year for us,” Graeme Smith gri­maced, in the af­ter­math of the hum­bling, 208-run demise to Sri Lanka in the sec­ond Test at Kingsmead on Thurs­day.

“Hope­fully 2012 will be a good one for us.”

Cer­tainly, this past year will go down as yet an­other chap­ter of un­der­achieve­ment for the national cricket side.

Cou­pled with the seem­ingly end­less in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the peo­ple who run the sport, and it sud­denly re­sem­bles a re­ally lean patch.

A World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal loss, still no Test se­ries tri­umph at home for over three years, and, most dis­con­cert­ingly, a spread­ing can­cer of in­ter­spers­ing the bril­liant with the abysmal.

More and more, they are be­ing asked ques­tions – and they don’t have the an­swers.

“I don’t know... I re­ally don’t have an an­swer for that,” Hashim Amla stam­mered, when he was asked to ex­plain the Proteas’ bat­ting ca­pit­u­la­tion on the sec­ond day.

“I re­ally can’t put my finger on it,” Smith added, when it was put to him that they didn’t seem to have an an­swer at Kingsmead.

Gary Kirsten, the man tasked with get­ting the best out of what is one of the bet­ter top sixes in the world on pa­per, will know just how con­sid­er­able his task is now ahead of the third Test in Cape Town.

Sud­den, se­vere ses­sions of wick­ets fall­ing have char­ac­terised the two Test losses this sea­son.

In­deed, even in vic­tory against the Aussies in Cape Town, there was the small mat­ter of be­ing rolled over for 96.

It is not so much a mat­ter of be­ing con­fronted with alien con­di­tions, as it is down to a lack of pa­tience. The kamikaze Tests that are be­com­ing the norm may be high on drama, but they are pretty poor in qual­ity.

Third Test

New­lands Start: Tues­day, Jan­uary 3 Venue: New­lands Ses­sions: 1st: 10.30am-12.30pm 2nd: 1.10pm-3.10pm 3rd: 3.30pm-5.30pm

More and more, South Africa’s bats­men are just not pre­pared to “guts it out”.

Af­ter all, Sri Lanka pro­duced two fine cen­turies, as well as a brace of ex­cel­lent half-cen­turies on de­but for the bub­bly Di­nesh Chandi­mal. So, clearly, there were runs to be made if peo­ple were pre­pared to spend time at the crease.

De­spite play­ing on pitches that gave the bowlers as­sis­tance, the Proteas seem to have a pen­chant for meet­ing fire with fire. And they are now feel­ing the heat.

Per­haps it was ar­ro­gance that led to their demise against Sri Lanka. Then again, it may be down to the modern prac­tice of just play­ing too many shots too soon. What­ever it is, the Proteas need to re­visit the time­less virtues of Test cricket. Pa­tience, pre­ci­sion and, in­evitably a fair amount of per­spi­ra­tion.

And that goes for bats­men and bowlers.

“We had to earn the right to take wick­ets,” Kirsten pointed out in the af­ter­math of a Ku­mar San­gakarra’s glit­ter­ing cen­tury, which came in the face of some mind­less bowl­ing.

While Marchant de Lange’s de­but burst of 7 for 81 was very ex­cit­ing, he would have learnt con­sid­er­ably more from a less prof­itable sec­ond in­nings.

By then, the class of the Sri Lankan mid­dle- or­der had re­alised that the Tza­neen speed­ster has two lengths. Very short and rather full.

The sooner he re­alises that his short ball is a weapon to be used as sur­prise, and not as a stock de­liv­ery, he will be­come in­fin­itely more ef­fec­tive.

It is im­per­a­tive, too, to re­mem­ber that he was still play­ing in just his 15th first class con­test.

In any case, Ver­non Philander will re­place him to give the at­tack bal­ance, and Morne Morkel did enough to keep his place in the side.

For now, Smith is also keen to per­se­vere with the po­ten­tial of Im­ran Tahir.

It’s the bat­ting that has real con­cerns, though. Smith, who was ir­ri­tated by ques­tions about his own fu­ture as cap­tain, will be more con­cerned about his top six right now.

Jac­ques Ru­dolph, lovely guy that he may be, des­per­ately needs a big score. He keeps look­ing good, with­out pro­duc­ing the goods.

A stout 44 at Cen­tu­rion is the height of his achieve­ments since his re­turn to the side. Mean­while, the man he re­placed, Alviro Petersen, has not stopped pil­ing on the runs do­mes­ti­cally.

Ru­dolph’s life­line may yet lie in the fact that Ash­well Prince is look­ing as mis­er­able as he is play­ing.

Prince’s re­verse-sweep on day two was, at best, mind­less. At worst, though, it was spineless, be­cause he was needed, in the midst of a del­uge of wick­ets, to buckle up and show some char­ac­ter.

He may yet pay a higher price than just los­ing his wicket, with Petersen poised to re­turn at the top of the or­der, and Ru­dolph handed a last chance in the mid­dle-or­der.

Asked about the make-up of his side, Smith dis­cour­aged mak­ing “emo­tional de­ci­sions” in the af­ter­math of a fourth straight loss in Dur­ban.

“We need to think not only of this se­ries, but six months down the line,” he in­sisted.

The street-wise Ki­wis and the cock-a-hoop English lie in wait for Smith and his men, and they sim­ply can­not ap­proach those two foes with the same cav­a­lier man­ner of this sum­mer.

If they do, Smith’s 2012 may start to re­sem­ble the an­nus hor­ri­bilis he bid good rid­dance to just a few hours ago.

SEARCH­ING FOR FORM: Mid­dle-or­der bats­man Ash­well Prince is un­der pres­sure af­ter a string of poor per­for­mances for South Africa.

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