What Now for Wounded Protea’s?

Exactly a year ago South Africa was experiencing their greatest cricketing day, defeating Australia in the Boxing Day Test to clinch their first series win against the Aussies. The future looked bright and the Protea’s were expected to dominate Test cricket in a new era of South African cricket. Today’s humiliating innings defeat to the touring English means that South Africa’s Test record in 2009 reads; Played 6 Won 1 Drawn 1 Lost 4. Hardly the successful new era that we were expecting after last years epic victories, including a first series win in England to go with the win in Oz. So where to now in 2010 for the Protea’s?

South Africa only has a few days to get over this thumping loss and make sure they are better equipped to draw level in the New Year Test, starting on Sunday, and then the final Test in Joburg shortly after. What they need to make sure are that lessons are learned and action taken. This side was ranked number 1 in the world not so long ago and they haven’t become a bad team since.

The first issue to address is the bowling. Ntini, based purely on form, should not play in the final two Tests. Whether that should be the end of his Test career is not a matter for this weekend. The time off my give him pause to think about what else he wants from his international career, whether its time he hung up his boots, or come back a different bowler, a containing change bowler, and not a strike bowler. De Wet’s impressive showing on debut in the first Test means that he should be given a run in the team, something that should have happened with this Test. Fortunately for South Africa they still have a chance at winning the series, though the number 1 Test ranking is no longer attainable during this series.

One of the few good things to come out of this Test was the bowling of Morne Morkel. He was far more consistent, cutting out the no balls, and was the only Protea bowler who looked like getting batsmen out. Steyn and Kallis both got a good work out and should be better in the next Test, but it was Morkels bowling that would have pleased the selectors the most. Now the decision needs to be made about who takes the new ball with Steyn. Morkel or de Wet will both be keen to do so, but perhaps it’s time Morkel be given the responsibility. Maybe this is the start of the next chapter of his international career, as Ntini’s winds down, Morkels may be about to take off.

In truth no bowler in contention have put their hands up for selection. The three bowlers just outside the squad, Parnell, Tsotsobe and perhaps CJ de Villiers, have had poor Super Sport Series form, and aren’t doing enough to suggest they be given a chance. The leading bowlers in the Super Sport Series are Philander of the Cobra’s and the Dolphins duo of Louw and Friend. Philander is lacking in pace to be considered for the Test team, and the selectors don’t seem to have the Dolphins duo in their plans. The only change to the bowling attack should be de Wet in for Ntini, and there is little point in keeping Ntini in the squad if he’s not going to play, he’d be better suited taking time off or perhaps playing for the Warriors. So maybe it would be a good idea to select Friend or Louw and have them in the squad where they can be assessed by the team?

As far as the batting is concerned, there won’t be any changes made. The top 6 have done a good job over the last couple of years and drastic changes are not needed. The next two Tests may be telling though. Prince, after a great knock against the Aussies, opening for the first time, is struggling a bit with that role right now. He either needs more time to get used to the role, or changes are needed. Duminy, who will be a Test star of the future, is still working out Test cricket, and needs to be given a chance become the player we have seen glimpses of, just as Kallis was at the beginning of his career. Of the batsman waiting in the wings Alviro Petersen, Dean Elgar and Riley Rossouw are worth keeping an eye on. None will get a chance during this series, but the players in the team should know that there are others waiting for a chance. To drive the point home maybe one of those should be called up to be part of the squad.

The Protea’s are used to having to come from behind to win a Test series, particularly at home, and will take comfort from the fact that they have done it on a few occasions. The nature of this loss will hurt the team and that should inspire a better performance in Cape Town. Lets hope they take it out on the English. In order to do so the selection needs to be right. If it is, England should prepare for a backlash.

pic from cricinfo.com


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