No time for Mr Nice Guy

2010-01-02 00:00

WHEN in doubt, most of us surround ourselves with familiarity in order to get a grip on things.

South Africa will thus hope that their return to Cape Town gets them back into that familiar pattern of winning, as they head into tomorrow’s crucial third Test against England.

The Proteas have won 14 of their last 20 matches at Newlands, including some massive defeats of previous touring English sides.

With the Wanderers no longer the bouncy devil that once had the English hopping about like Easter bunnies against Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, Cape Town has become the South Africans fortress.

As coach Mickey Arthur suggested, it might be the scenery and surrounding attractions that distract visiting sides.

Then again, not many visiting sides have tour guides within the ranks who also moonlight as top-order batsmen.

This English side will need no more motivation than the knowledge that victory will seal a series win and exact hasty revenge for the loss at home in 2008.

The post-mortems of South Africa’s annus horribilis are still flying about, but the simple truth is that the Proteas need to get the fire back into their bellies.

England’s top order — and even the tiny Ian Bell — have been allowed to boom on to the front foot and flay away without any fear by South Africa’s bowlers.

Only Morne Morkel has worried them, and he will need his mates to charge in just as fiercely if South Africa are to make a dent in England’s confidence with the bat.

Dale Steyn will be looking to be a lot more penetrative than he was at Kingsmead, and the third seamer will be under severe pressure to perform anyway.

Arthur did a great fence-sitting impersonation regarding the fate of Makhaya Ntini this week. Asked if the under-fire paceman would play, Arthur sagely remarked that he would hate to comment on the likelihood of that because he just didn’t know.

Heck, if the coach is this indecisive, it shouldn’t be surprising that the team have begun doubting their ability so much of late.

Arthur said that Ntini’s status as an icon cricketer means that he could be afforded every opportunity to get back in the groove.

Such statements are the breeding ground for complacency, a disease that seems to be approaching epidemic proportions within the South African ranks — and that includes the coach himself.

Past glories are all well and good, but can any of us turn up to the office and swan about because we had a great 2007?

Of course not, and Makhaya Ntini and every other South African cricketer should be judged purely on what they are bringing to the table as we speak.

Sadly for the Mdingi Express, the answer is a depressingly frank “not enough”.

If South Africa persist with the attitude of backing him to come right, they will count the true cost of it once the final Test at the Wanderers is done and dusted.

It is one thing being a batsman out of form. Bell reflected on how tough it felt to be “carried” by his team-mates — a truly dark place for any individual.

Batting, luckily enough, relies on every member of the team chipping in.

Graeme Swann’s knocks down the order have saved face a few times for England, but bowling is a different art altogether. There is no hiding.

Graeme Smith cannot nominate any old player to chuck the leather; he has to rely on his specialists.

And if one or two are not performing, it creates an incredible amount of pressure for the team as a unit.

If South Africa are to get a foot back into this most competitive of Test series, they will have to shovel out any emotion and pick the 11 men who are best equipped — as we speak — to turn the tourists over.

Anything short of that will only result in another Kingsmead job. And no one even remotely connected to South Africa wants to relive that agony.

TEAMS

South Africa: (likely) G Smith (c), A Prince, A Amla, J Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, M Boucher, M Morkel, P Harris, D Steyn and F de Wet.

England: (likely) A Strauss (c), A Cook, J Trott, K Pietersen, P Collingwood, I Bell, M Prior, S Broad, G Swann, J Anderson, G Onions.

TV Times: 10am on Supersport 2 and SABC 3.

 

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