South Africa have started yet another series on a losing note. Australia’s huge win in the first Test at Centurion not only has put the top-ranked side on back foot but there seem to be problems galore for them. While their batting order hasn’t fired in the way they would’ve liked, the struggle against Mitchell Johnson’s pace and bounce is likely to continue. Devarchit Varma explains the troubles that the No 1 Test side is facing at the moment…
It was a thoroughly dominant show from Australia at Centurion – their batsmen scored runs in heaps, and the bowlers did exceptional job of bowling out the South Africans for modest totals in both the innings to register a comprehensive win by 281 runs. What Australia did to South Africa was totally expected – barrage of bouncers, intimidation and the in-form batsmen flourishing against quality pace attack. But what was unexpected was the struggle of the South African players, some of which has been there for long.
Alviro Petersen hasn’t scored a century since January 2013, and in the last 15 innings since that ton in Cape Town he has scored only two half-centuries. On the other hand, his opening partner Graeme Smith is in a much comfortable position with three half-centuries and a magnificent 234 against Pakistan at Dubai last year. It is a fact that opening stands have played big roles in all sides that have dominated world cricket for long, and this area is one department where South Africa have been struggling a little.
Jacques Kallis’s retirement was always going to make a big impact on the South African side in both batting and bowling departments. But no side in international cricket today can rely on one batsman alone to bail them out of trouble and his absence, put together with the struggles of JP Duminy and Robin Peterson has increased South Africa’s woes. Hashim Amla too seems to be going through a lean patch, as one could clearly make out he was not his usual best at Centurion.
The biggest worry that South Africa have right now is the form of Petersen, Duminy and Peterson. The failure to strengthen their bowling attack with a quality spinner added trouble on Duminy and Peterson, and resultantly, the negative effect of this increased workload can also be seen on their batting. While Duminy’s last half-century came in October 2013 in Abu Dhabi, he last scored a century way back in March 2012, against New Zealand at Wellington. Peterson, on the other hand, is not a specialist batsman and plays as the main spinner in the South African side. He did score a half-century against India in December last year, but South Africa needs lot more from these two with the bat.
Moreover, it is also about the approach one takes against a certain task. When Mitchell Johnson employed the tactics of coming around the wicket, both Duminy and Peterson lost their composure and went for their shots. It isn’t a crime for a batsman to go for his shots, but one also must evaluate the situation, what his side demands and what their partner at the other end needs. On many occasions both Duminy and Peterson threw their bats on well-directed bouncers from around the wicket by Johnson, in a bid to smack the ball towards midwicket. It was more of a desperate effort to counter-attack rather than watching the ball and trying to stay out of trouble most of the times. Peterson even went across the wicket while attempting to connect to the ball. At that moment, South Africa needed their batsmen to spend time on the wicket, and not recklessly throw them away.
AB de Villiers did get support from these two for a while but the approach was certainly not the one that would have worked. In fact, the South African batsmen need not have looked far away than de Villiers, who batted exceptionally well against the Australians. He too faced the wrath of Johnson and company. But standing deep in the crease, de Villiers employed the tactics of playing each ball as per its merit, and even flicked a couple towards the midwicket region.
Bowling department, led by Dale Steyn must be hurting. They were totally outclassed by the Australians in planning and execution, and it is not a regular scene in international cricket that such a supremely talented attack is outplayed, especially in their own yard. Steyn struggled a bit with fitness and Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander failed to make a mark.
South Africa will be raring to make a comeback and challenge the Australian juggernaut, as they seem to have found their mojo with thrashing of England in the Ashes. The one way to counter this will be to score heaps of runs and give their bowlers something to bowl at.
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