With the Test series in the bag and the ODI series squared, Gary Kirsten and his management team would be ecstatic with the results. There is no question that the South African tour to the UK has been a success story.
Winning in England has never been easy. In bygone times, players from around the world all plied their trade in England and it certainly didn’t help the English cause when playing against those.
The Test series saw five top batsman average over 50 in the three Tests and only Jacques Rudolph average 40. No coach can ask for better than that! It was the sole reason for the absolute dominance over the English Test team.
Just too many runs were scored for them to ever get into a position of dominance. That transferred into reducing the pressure on the bowlers to contain and also take wickets.
This allowed Graeme Smith to attack for longer periods and make bowling changes based on a gut-feel. With Vernon Philander heading up the bowling averages and Dale Steyn taking the most scalps it went according to plan. The only front-line bowler who probably would have liked a better return was Jacques Kallis. However he bowled just half the number of overs of the strikers and more than made up for it with his contribution with the bat.
Smith was also able to lead with more flair and creativity which often resulted in wickets. Had it not been for Kevin Pietersen’s big hundred in the second Test, England would surely have suffered a whitewash in their own backyard.
There is no doubt that the Pietersen saga played a role in the England team being put under more scrutiny than they had anticipated. Andrew Strauss eventually succumbed to that pressure both in his batting and his captaincy. His resignation at the end of the series was a sad story but not entirely unexpected.
It has been the way in cricket for a long time and it will continue to be like that in the future. Results on home soil are so much more magnified than in some far-away land. In the end, he himself took the plunge and just on his batting form alone over the last while, it was the right decision. His heir-apparent Alastair Cook had been waiting in the wings for some time already.
The one-day series was salvaged just in the nick of time by some spectacular batting by Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers. If one is brutally honest, the middle order experiments of Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar were failures. Whilst they are both capable provincial batsmen, they looked out of their depth against an England attack that used the swing conditions well.
Too many soft dismissals in almost every match saw South Africa place themselves under continual pressure. The stabilising influence of Jacques Kallis at number three was clearly missing. This placed AB de Villiers under increased pressure and forced him to deviate from his natural game. Fortunately Amla transferred his amazing form in the Test series through to the ODI’s and I believe that probably proved the difference in the end.
As far as the bowling department is concerned, it is probably the area that needs the most consideration over the next period. When Steyn and Morkel are striking all is well. However, Lonwabo Tsotsobe was a disaster and took just one wicket in four games with the new ball. Both he and Wayne Parnell didn’t do enough with the ball in swing-conducive conditions.
Robin Peterson had an outstanding series with the ball and has now cemented his spot as the number one spinner in the shorter form of the game and with JP Duminy able to back him up when required, South Africa have that aspect of their game well covered.
The T20 World Cup looms large for Kirsten and his squad and the fact that South Africa have not won a world tournament for so long means additional pressure placed on everyone involved.
Whilst they don’t arrive as favourites, all eyes will be on them as a team capable of upsetting anyone on their day. The entire country back home will no doubt get behind the team and hang on their every result.
T20 cricket at times can be deemed a lottery with a single innings sometimes deciding the result. Often the actual toss is a crucial aspect and perhaps even to a greater extent on the subcontinent.
IPL experience could prove an invaluable asset to some teams and the fact that the top players have not only played against each other but with also with each other, there are not too many secrets regarding techniques nowadays. Early momentum will be what each team will be striving for.
- Pat Symcox played 80 ODIs for the Proteas and took 72 wickets.