End Of Season Reports 9: South Africa
Tests 2nd, ODI 2nd, T20 2nd
India (H) – T20 won 1-0 (1)
New Zealand (A) – Tests Won 1-0 (3), ODIs Won 3-0 (3), T20s Won 2-1 (3)
Sri Lanka (h) – Tests Won 2-1 (3), ODIs Won 3-2 (5)
One, rather self-inflicted, aberration aside, it has been an excellent winter for the South Africans. They won their first home series since 2008 (a remarkable statistic), and managed to dodge the rain long enough to clinically dispatch New Zealand away in March. They even managed to beat India against all odds in one of the great one off T20’s just after returning from deepest darkest Oceania (the continent, not the nightclub). On top of that, like England
and Australia, they seem to have found a group of fast bowlers who offer variety and will trouble batsmen all over the world. The only problem is that they haven’t really been up against top quality opposition and the way their batting has struggled in places will be a concern bearing in mind what awaits this summer.
The most obvious example of such a struggle took place in Durban, where they were torn apart by Chanaka Welegedera. Now there’s a sentence no one was expecting. Twice in New Zealand their first innings total also fell well short of what they would be expecting – 238 in the first Test, 253 in the second – and they really can’t afford to bring that sort of form to England. To the neutral observer, the weaknesses look to be the same as they have been for a while; Alviro Petersen is unlikely to strike fear into many teams’ hearts at the top of the order, while none of Jacques Rudolph, Ashwell Prince or JP Duminy have really excelled at number six. With Mark Boucher’s batting seemingly in terminal decline that leaves a lower order which looks worryingly fragile. Of course, they have the odd decent batsman in their top five, but even Australia bowled them out for 96 last year. Against England they might end up with minus runs. Is it too early to start the mental disintegration?
The bowlers have continued their excellent form; Vernon Philander’s desperate attempts to take 50 Test wickets before he had to face anyone competent ended in glorious success, while Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have been as threatening as ever – Morkel seemed on a mission to bowl New Zealand out single-handedly on the final day in Wellington, where he took all six wickets to fall. The only question mark is over Imran Tahir, who has flattered to deceive throughout his career at the top level so far (18 wickets @ 37.05). He took just four wickets in two Tests in New Zealand before being dropped for Marchant de Lange for the final game and while he will almost certainly play the first Test of the summer at the Oval, if were he to struggle again there it wouldn’t be particularly surprising if South Africa went with four seamers in Leeds.
In the one day arena, the Proteas are probably the best side in the world already. Under the stewardship of AB de Villiers, who replaced Graeme Smith as captain prior to the Sri Lanka series, they demolished the tourists in the first three ODI’s before taking their foot off the gas and losing the final two, before whitewashing New Zealand 3-0 without breaking sweat (incidentally, as captain de Villiers averages 158.33, which is quite good). Again, a cynic could point to the quality of side they were up against, but both of their opponents over the last few months are undoubtedly more at home in colours than whites. Also the slight weaknesses South Africa have to contend with in the Test arena aren’t really an issue in the shorter formats. If they can get someone to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre at just the right time, they will be seriously difficult to beat in the World T20 later this year.
Much like the Australians, South Africa’s winter felt a bit like the calm before the storm; their visit to England is followed by the World T20 and a tour to the aforementioned Australia before the year is out. Whereas the last few months have been a bit of a slow burner, with lots of cricket but not much genuine excitement, the next 12 months or so promises to be a whole new ball game entirely.