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South Africa - prisoners of their own devices

Having paid the price for complacency after whitewashing India in the ODIs, SA are beset with a host of woes, reports Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2006 00:45 IST

Even while the Indian team gets some workout in a practice game, though only against a hastily put together team at the Northwood Crusaders Club herea in Durban North on Friday, South African coach Mickey Arthur will be coming into town a day ahead of his under-fire team, hoping that it will make a difference.

What difference that can make, though, is something only he can tell as what the Proteas probably need is what India have been getting — batting practice.

South Africa have probably paid the price for being rather complacent after whitewashing India in the one-dayers, and asking for the kind of a track that they thought would see the Indian batting collapse. Well, India didn’t bat all that well overall but the Proteas were worse.

The first thing you generally look at before going into a Test is the nature of the track, keeping your strengths and the opposition’s weaknesses in mind. That’s possibly where they erred, right at the start. The track had more than enough in it for the seamers, which was fine but then, the South African batting was not exactly in tiptop shape.

India, meanwhile, were down after the one-day series and looking for inspiration in any form and it came in the warm-up game, which they won.

On the other hand, the South Africans, for some strange reason, chose not to play any competitive cricket during the break (between the ODIs and Tests), apparently a selectorial decision.

It is understandable for bowlers to miss a game but if out-of-form batsmen are not made to play domestic cricket when they have the opportunity to bat themselves back into form, then there’s something skewed in the system.

Meanwhile, India’s move to bat first was a gutsy one under the circumstances and that should’ve told South Africa to look out, but that didn’t happen. Instead, they tried to bounce the Indian batsmen out, which obviously didn’t work. The Indians went out there to prove a point and instead of their traditional flamboyance, opted for just hanging in there and grafting.

The South Africans, on the other hand, looked like they were still in one-day mode with their batsmen guilty of playing too many strokes too soon on a track on which even a well-set batsman was seen struggling every now and then. Getting out for 84 in their first essay was where they lost the game.

Not many teams can win a Test from there but what was surprising was that the South African bowlers (barring the amazing Shaun Pollock) neither learnt from their bowling performance in the first innings nor from the way the Indian seam bowlers bowled — they pitched the ball up and made the batsmen play at most of the deliveries.

At the end of the day, Test matches are won by taking 20 wickets and not by scaring the batsmen. Smith has been saying that while South Africa have a great one-day record, they’re about a year-and-a-half behind in terms of Test performances. Well, it showed at the Wanderers.

In Tests, the best bowler of the side will have to bowl as many overs as possible with a lot of people in catching positions and would constantly have to try and get the batsmen out, unlike in the shorter format, where he’d be bowling not more than a few overs at a stretch and that too, to a defensive line.

The same goes for the batting: a batsman can play himself into form by spending time in the middle without needing to score off every delivery. For their own sake, South Africa should have spent some time analysing their batting woes and looking for ways to tackle the Indian seam attack.