SPORT Not such a happy New Year
Proteas face searching questions as 2012 dawns
“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.
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.