Protea’s Start Climb

Johan Botha returns to the Test squad

After going missing for about a year, the real Protea’s finally showed up, putting in the type of performance that was expected, but seen only once, in 2009. For the Protea’s, the series leveling Test win against England at the Wanderers is the beginning of the climb back to the the top.

While Smith and his players, and certainly the South African public, didn’t think they’d have to wait this long for the team to show the form that stormed them to the top of the ICC Test rankings in 2008, with away series wins in England and Australia, all will be looking for them to grasp this opportunity to fulfill the the potential the team clearly has, but has not been able to take to the next level.

All that begins with a two Test series away to the current number one team, India. A daunting task, but one that must be undertaken if the side harbors any real desire and hopes of being the best. Everything came together nicely in the crushing win against England in Johannesburg and although it enabled the team to square a series they had thought they would have no trouble winning, they must put the right context into the triumph. Yes they had rightly figured that they should beat England at home, and yes they are the stronger side on paper, but many took this England side for granted. They had beaten Australia and have shown a spirit and courage that England sides have lacked for a long time.

In truth South Africa were searching for a win. This series could have been, and perhaps should have been, won by a comfortable 3-1 margin, with the 1st and 3rd Tests requiring England to hang on 9 down in the final overs. Had South Africa managed to get Onions out in the first Test perhaps they would have gone on to win 4-0. That is maybe wishful thinking, but does actual bare some truth. One win in six in 2009 was a poor return for the Proteas. The side had forgotten how to win in some respects and regaining that feeling is what was being strived for. Now that it has been realised they have the oppurtinity to put the horrible year that passes between beating the Aussies and this England series to bed and do what they had threatened to do – play ruthless, percentage cricket. And above all else win.

Ntini may have gone but in Steyn and Morkel they have the most destructive new ball attack in world cricket. With Morkel finally beginning to realize the potential that so many have seen in him, with added responsibility and a clearer role within the team, this could prove to be the year he creates a destructive path to the Protea’s strike plans. Parnell and McLaren both made debuts in the final Test against England and gave good support to their main strike bowlers, but both will have to do more to stake a claim for the 3rd seamers position in the time. Harris and the recalled Botha will surely take the place of either Parnell or McLaren in India, but it is good to know that options and depth are in place for the attack.

As far as the batting is concerned,  Alviro Petersen will be waiting for his chance, and given the way he took it in the one day series, will surely not let anyone down. Prince and Duminy are both playing for their positions, but with Duminy’s spin option as well as his obvious talent, perhaps the selectors will allow him the time needed to regain his form. The pressure is on Prince to give the opening birth one final crack, and no doubt he will have the first test to lay claim to it. If he fails again Petersen will make his debut in the second Test.

Although India is perhaps the toughest place the tour right now, and with the Indian team ranked first, the Protea’s must know that they need a strong showing to lay down a marker straight away, and to show the world that they are capable of the type of dominance once typified but the Aussies. If that’s the case, then India is the ideal place to start.

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