Alarm bells need not ring just yet

2013-10-19 00:00

GIVEN the “win or bust” situation suddenly facing them in the second Test against Pakistan next week, the Proteas really have no choice but to infuse unpredictable leg-spinner Imran Tahir into their attack.

The first thing to do, of course, is to get to Dubai, where the final contest starts on Wednesday, and regroup after the seven-wicket Abu Dhabi thumping handed to the world’s No. 1-ranked side, which rather violently broke a sequence of 15 Tests without defeat for Graeme Smith’s team.

It is unlikely there will be any grossly knee-jerk approaches to the loss, even given that the national team’s seemingly blasé, all-too-short “prep” work after a lengthy lay-off in the five-day arena is under some scrutiny.

Whether that argument has merit or not, many fans of the national side will simply be hoping that the comprehensive defeat has served as the belated wake-up call required, and they will now be stung into much more polished action at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

The fact remains that a levelling victory would provide a satisfying enough series outcome, given how difficult it remains for teams from more pace-friendly countries to prevail in sub-continental conditions.

So alarm bells need not begin ringing just yet, especially as there were some appealing signs as the first Test gradually wore on that the main SA fast bowlers are getting their mojo back.

In what seems an eternally vexing matter, the Proteas’ spin department is under the microscope, however, after supposed front-liner Robin Peterson returned the unflattering haul of 0/125 in Abu Dhabi.

Peterson is a very good “holding” man on, for instance, South African pitches where the seamers do the bulk of the destruction and it is fine to pick up scalps here and there and also contribute to the cause in other ways — like with the bat, where he showed skill and fighting qualities in the Proteas’ second innings.

But when genuine breakthrough oomph is required from the spinner on the dustbowls of Asia, he finds it much tougher to do the business effectively.

There is some irony in the fact that the likely “solution” to the slow-bowling problem rests in Pakistan-born Imran Tahir, the leggie with an expensive bowling average of 50 after 11 Tests and hapless match figures of 0/260 in Adelaide last time out for him in the format.

Still, he has had to stew on that performance for a long time — about a year — and doesn’t appear to have responded too badly to the embarrassment at other levels subsequently.

With Tahir, you simply have to expect a certain quota of long-hops and full-tosses, but he does also offer a greater possibility than Robin Peterson of producing sublime deliveries at times.

Without the benefit of awareness of the pitch that will greet the Proteas in Dubai — rocket science may not be required to figure out its strongest hallmarks — I would suggest Tahir simply has to be gambled upon because South Africa have no choice but to dismiss Pakistan twice.

It is also not out of the question that they find a way to accommodate both Tahir and Peterson, with batsman JP Duminy thus becoming the third rather than second spinner.

For that to happen they might have to sacrifice a batsman — but they might have to anyway if chief anchorman Hashim Amla misses the decisive contest due to his wife’s imminent childbirth.

They could shuffle the order a bit, possibly asking someone like Faf du Plessis, who is labouring in the middle order right now, to take the step that often works surprisingly well in first-class cricket: bring him up higher (into Amla’s No 3. slot) to only give him more opportunity to really build an innings and rediscover his touch.

That way South Africa could still field a decent enough top six on paper, finishing with Duminy, and with the increasingly accomplished Peterson serving as the buffer at No. 7 before the proper tail starts. Given his known talent with the blade, Vernon Philander at eight also isn’t the worst stationing in the world.

Really, on a benign Emirates surface, the Proteas ought to be able to cobble together enough runs twice with those men tasked with the bulk of the job, shouldn’t they?

The gritty little Dean Elgar is also lurking in the extended tour party, and frankly after six prior Tests played out of position at either No. 6 or 7, the top-order specialist very soon warrants a crack in more familiar terrain for him.

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