Proteas show flexibility but in trouble after Day 1

Faf du Plessis’ heroics once more ensured South Africa didn’t completely fall down the abyss on the first day of the third Test against Australia in Perth

South Africa showed they were willing to divert themselves from the formula that proved successful in England by making two changes to their starting line-up for the crucial third and final Test against Australia in Perth.

However, the batting line-up failed to measure up to the revamped Australian bowling attack with Faf du Plessis once again being the lone resistance, with 78 not out, on an otherwise Australian day. South Africa were bowled out for 225 and Australia reached 33/2 at the end of the day, but Graeme Smith would have hoped for more after winning the toss.

Both Imran Tahir, following his disastrous match in Adelaide, and Jacques Rudolph, who has failed to assert himself in the South African middle order, were both dropped with Dean Elgar making his debut and Robin Petersen coming back into the team since his last Test appearance four years ago. For those of us fearing the Proteas couldn’t make the tough choices, they just did. Now they need to get down to business.

Du Plessis once again showed the application required against an energised Australia, who took the radical step of replacing their entire seam bowling trio, though one of those changes was injury enforced. AB de Villiers’ poor run with the bat continued  and serious questions need to be asked whether he should be keeping and batting, since the experiment has rendered one of the world’s most talent batsman a mere bystander this Test season thus far. 

Dale Steyn, who has under-performed this series along with the rest of the South African attack, showed some spit and fire when Australia began their short day at the crease, dismissing Ed Cowan on his third delivery. Vernon Philander finally also claimed his first wicket of the series, trapping Shane Watson in front, after a terrible outing at the Gabba and missing the second Test due to back pain. 

South Africa fought back from 132/7, and while Australia still hold the aces, the Proteas through a fine bowling performance tomorrow morning can get back into the game. However, if Australia win the first session, it seems unlikely South Africa will be able to come back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advantage SA as series reaches the wire

Faf du Plessis celebrating his match-saving century against Australia

Faf du Plessis, with his epic match-saving hundred at Adelaide, has given SA the advantage heading into the third Test starting in Perth on Friday. While the Proteas have been outplayed in the last two Tests, Australia were the ones who spent more energy in ultimately a drawn cause in South Australia.

The third Test allows the Proteas to raise their game to the levels we know as South African fans it can reach. Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn have under-performed with the ball somewhat, while Vernon Philander and Rory Kleinveldt have had troubles of their own. Imran Tahir, following his disastrous display in Adelaide, faces the chop. With Robin Petersen in the wings, perhaps its time to jettison Tahir because the attacking option he was meant to provide has been completely expunged by the Australians at the cost of many, many runs.

Some might say it will ruin his confidence, but following the most expensive Test figures ever without taking a wicket (0-260), I doubt there is much chance of it getting worse when it has already hit rock bottom.

On the batting front, Jacques Rudolph should be dropped considering how poorly he has done on this tour, especially in times when much was demanded of him. If Jacques Kallis is able to play as a batsman, Rudolph could be jettisoned either for Dean Elgar, Ryan McLaren or Thami Tsolikele, depending on what balance the Proteas seek.

Australia will most likely bring in Shane Watson, strengthening their top order which has almost been reliant on skipper Michael Clarke scoring runs down the order. If South Africa can dismiss him and Michael Hussey early, a win at Perth is very much within their grasp.

The South Africans know they have been under par thus far, but after surviving a Test match that should have been lost, they should take that momentum with them into the third and final Test.

The title of best Test team is at stake.

Atlas Smith carries his team’s hopes…again

Graeme Smith’s 26th Test hundred once again gave South Africa hope after a terrible start to the second Test in Adelaide

Considering how badly South Africa were looking after Day 1, Day 2 ended with skipper Graeme Smith once again showing there was still plenty of room to carry the hopes of a nation after another nerveless hundred (111*) away from home.

If the statistics are to be believed, now that Smith has notched up his 26th Test century, South Africa will not lose. When Graeme Smith has scored a century, South Africa have not lost the game, and won the majority of them (17 ).

On a pitch so lifeless, making a graveyard look like a club with pumping house music, Smith went about his business knowing that with Jacques Kallis only coming in at number seven due to injury, it was up to him to ensure his side made it to the end of Day 2 with minimal fuss.

He had a couple of close encounters, with James Pattinson throwing his toys once again after Smith got his dismissal via an edge reversed, but all in all South Africa while still deep in the abyss, can see the light above.

217/2 would sound a lot better at 217/0 but due to Alviro Petersen’s careless and frankly unacceptable dismissal (how at international level can you be that naive and not ground your bat?), and Hashim Amla yorking himself against the part time spin of David Warner, Jacques Rudolph now has a chance to save his Test career with a defining knock where he can bat all day.

Imran Tahir’s Test career hang’s on a knife edge, following his dismal display of 0/180 in 23 overs at 7.82 runs an over. What is even more galling is part timer Faf du Plessis looked the better of the two leggies, registering seven over for 34.

Hats off to Michael Clarke for another outstanding knock (230), and to David Warner and Michael Hussey once again making South Africa pay with centuries of their own. The Proteas managed to haul themselves back by taking the last five Australian wickets in the morning session, but many will ask whether South Africa prepared hard-enough after their much publicised break between Test matches, where the squad went their separate ways.

However, I don’t think Gary Kirsten and the break is to blame, but rather the Australians entering the game the more motivated of the two sides, and following another disruption with Vernon Philander being unable to play on the morning of the match, plus Tahir who is suffering a confidence crisis (along with fellow bowling cohort Rory Kleinveldt), Kirsten and co will have much thinking to do before the last Test.

I doubt you will see Tahir play, with the calmer Robin Petersen given the spin duties.

For now however, if Smith and South Africa can continue their vigil, the Proteas still have a good chance of drawing this match and going to Perth for the third and final Test at 0-0 all, even though they will admit to themselves that Australia have had their number thus far.

Word to the groundsman, who should have done better than produce a tar road for a Test pitch, late spin or not.

Short balls to Clarke?

 

Michael Clarke…on a bad day

I’ve read talk about South Africa intending on sending down many a chin-warmer against Michael Clarke, the Australian skipper, following his fine 259* not out against the Proteas at the Gabba.

Something tells me that isn’t quite going to happen, more of a bluff perhaps? The best way to get Michael Clarke, is the same way you get the very best out, and he is now one of those. Put the ball into the channel, bowl a good length and keep probing away, ball after ball after ball. Fuller rather than shorter.

Yes, Clarke will receive some bouncers chin-music, there can be no doubt about that. However, to think that in his current form that they will pepper him with short balls all day, seems too blunt an approach for Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith and the bowling attack in general. Yes, the Gabba was a bad day at the office, actually three, but South Africa have not become number through bowling the same way series by series.

There is a reason the Proteas haven’t lost an away series since 2006 especially. It’s because Smith’s attack has learned and more importantly learned to adapt to the situation around them.

The ball that will get Michael Clarke out will be fullish, outside or on off stump. Why would this happen? Because that’s where good bowlers get out good batsman.

On a separate note, it feels Ricky Ponting is only two bad scores away from being dropped? Of those batsman who made their debut in the 90s, Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar (89 for him), Mahela Jayawardene, and Jacques Kallis are left. While Kallis and Jayawardene have been more consistent, Ponting and especially Tendulkar have looked vulnerable. This could be Ricky Ponting’s last series if we’re not watching.

Boks do a “The Walking Dead” impression in Scotland

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21-10 was the final score at Murrayfield, as South Africa continued their unbeaten run on their European Tour. Was it entertaining? No. Has Pat Lambie been a disappointment at 10? Yes. Is he following orders? Probably.

Naas Botha lamented the laboured way in which the Springboks achieved victory against the Scots, not too dissimilar to the way a weakened Irish side were tamed the week before in Dublin. The Boks’ game does not go beyond in certain respects the TV show “The Walking Dead”, as the forwards tackle and march forward with the ball with the type of monotonous spirit comparable to zombies seeking flesh. For forward play, that’s all well and good, and something the Springboks should be complemented on.

However, its the backline’s lack of creativity which is causing concern among Springbok fans. For all the talent within the Springbok team and South Africa at Super rugby level, South Africa’s backline pales in comparison to their more creative and ambitious New Zealand and Australian peers. Surely it isn’t a bad thing to aspire to play the way the All Blacks do within a South African context?

Botha, the former Springbok flyhalf and well known SuperSport pundit was quoted in the Business Day newspaper on Monday saying “We played two Tests and won two, but we are not playing the most attractive rugby and it almost seems as though nothing is happening in terms of creativity. But then again, the team won, so can one complain?”

Indeed. Botha further asked what the team could hope to achieve playing the way they do. As the All Blacks demonstrated against South Africa in Johannesburg at FNB Stadium earlier this year, the Springboks cannot hope to out muscle the All Blacks. That certainly didn’t work, as the New Zealanders greater skill, creativity, and all round game drowned the Springboks to a 32-16 defeat. It was depressing being in the stadium releasing just how far behind the men in green are from the men in black.

Part of the problem perhaps is that Meyer wasn’t given the best of starts, as he was immediately forced to hunker down with England coming to SA to play three Tests in an assignment Springbok fans expected to win.

As the win-loss ratio continues to be an indicator of a coaches’ success in the professional era, coaches will be first to adopt win-at-all-costs tactics, and if Meyer’s side manages to beat England this week, his record will go to seven wins from 12 starts, beyond the all important 55% mark.

2013 will feature a much easier in-coming tour schedule, as Scotland, Samoa and either Italy or Fiji will fill the June window during the Super rugby season. That means Meyer could be tempted (or hopefully) to spread his wings in regards to his playing style, perhaps he viewed 2012 as a year to survive.

Regardless of what happens against England, he has done some things well, such as introducing the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth and Johan Goosen to Test rugby. To his credit, he has realised he needs a fetcher within his loose-trio, with Francois Louw doing a superb job since becoming a regular within the Springbok pack. Some things he has not done well, such as relentlessly backing Morne Steyn even when the Bulls man was hopelessly out of form, along with picking too many Bulls. Zane Kirchener’s retention at fullback is also a selection that continues to displease.

The players will receive a welcome break before the grindstone of Super rugby pre-season gets under way.  It hasn’t been the best year for Springbok rugby, but we can hope 2013 will offer more on the field, especially as Meyer grows increasingly comfortable with his position. Perhaps then we will start seeing the Springboks playing in a way that doesn’t just earn the result, but in a way, stamps the Springbok brand on their opponents.

Till then, we will just have to make due.