South Africa fell short of achieved their desired goal of a Sub Continental treble on a day to forget in the 3rd and final Test against India.
It seemed like the story of this South African team’s life as it took a single bad day to ruin what had been a good tour for the Protea’s. Their World Cup hopes were torn apart by a bruising turn over against Australia, in the T20 World Cup they took a 100% record into their final second round group game and that one loss, to India, was enough to see them fail to progress, and again a good showing came to an abrupt end at the hands of Harbajan Singh.
The 3rd day, and what would prove to be the final day, of the 3rd and deciding Test saw South African fail to pick up the final Indian wicket they needed cheaply, allowing the Indians to gain a substantial lead under the circumstances, and then crumble all out with a lead of just over 60 runs, as the Indian bowlers made full use of conditions on a very dry, crumbling pitch, and the South African batsman seemed unsure to go about the task at hand.
In the end India got there, losing 2 wickets, to seal victory and tie the 3 match series 1-1 and in so doing keep their 2nd place in the Test rankings, just ahead of South Africa. For South Africa it was a case of one off day ruining a series that they had dominated, and surprised in doing so.
The good news for world cricket is that over the last few months both India and South Africa have shown that they are moving in the right direction in terms of being able to compete with Australia. India has added grit and inner strength to their talent, and South Africa a greater sense of self belief and confidence.
Where to now for South Africa? They face a tough schedule for the rest of the year with a long tour of England in August and then they’re off to Australia in December to test how good they really are. In terms of the team they have a settle squad, but there could be some changes. Ashwell Prince has been short of form in recent Tests and his place is under pressure from the supremely talented and stylish JP Duminy, who has recently cemented a place in the ODI batting line up and has been patiently waiting for his chance in Test cricket. He must get his chance on the England tour, and when he does he must be persevered with, even if he fails. What must not happen is a chop and change effect that leaves JP feeling like he is playing for his place everytime he goes to the crease. He has to feel secure and confident that the selectors and his team back him, and then allowed to flourish. The rest of the batting line up picks itself, with Smith finding a capable opening partner in Mackenzie that looks more secure then any South Africa have had for a couple of seasons now. Gibbs will struggle to get back into the Test team, but if he finds form again, a Gibbs waiting in the wings is not a bad problem to have. The bowling unit has depth and motivation behind them, and with Dale Steyn leading the line is one to be feared. Harris will have learned a lot from this tour and although he wont have been thrilled with his performance he must be a better player for it. Morne Morkel is a huge talent who like Duminy, must be given a sustained run in the team. He will lead the attack with Steyn for many seasons to come, and the ground work starts here and now. Ntini is getting back some of the form he has lost over the last few months, but there must be option to rest him at some stage. With Andre Nel and Charl Langeveld waiting to show the selectors a thing or two, and Monde Zondeki, and a host of fast bowling talent back home, the selectors should have more than a few options should form or injury hamper their starting attack.
So long as politics doesn’t continue to harm the game the future of South African cricket looks good. This could be the team to finally win a series against Australia, something South Africa hasn’t achieved since readmission. First up is England. The rest of the year should be enthralling for all South African cricket lovers.
(Pic from cricinfo.com)