Some Protea soul-searching ahead of the Wanderers

2010-01-13 00:00

MICKEY Arthur admits it’s desperation time going into the final Test of the series between England and South Africa at the Wanderers tomorrow. There is little doubt that Arthur and his players are feeling the heat and the pressure of having to pull off a win in the final Test match to level the series. Since the nail-biting closing overs of the third Test at Newlands on Sunday there has been much speculation as to how England were allowed to “escape” yet again. With South Africa dominating in two of the three Test matches, the fact that they are 1-0 down in the series has everybody asking questions.

Did Graeme Smith declare too late on the fourth day? Did the batsmen bat too slowly in the second innings? Did the injury to Friedel De Wet put too much pressure on the pacemen — these are all valid questions. But after looking at the pitch each morning of the Test match, I think the answer as to why victory eluded the Proteas in Cape Town lies mainly in the ineffectiveness of their spin bowler, Paul Harris. The wicket on day five of the Test match was without a doubt tailormade for a spinner to take control and Harris just couldn’t use it to his advantage.

Harris has been extremely successful over the last year, nudging his way into the top 10 world bowling rankings. Many are perplexed at his success considering his inability to turn the ball, but he has silenced many critics by taking a bucket load of wickets.

When Harris was first selected for South Africa there was little pressure on him and he relished being in a position where he could bowl with nothing to lose. Now as a highly ranked spinner in world cricket and head of the Protea spin department, there are expectations and pressure. Harris appears to be taking strain. He’s seen his opposition, in the confident and competent Graeme Swann, snatching wickets and turning it square in the Test series. As a result he’s been at the receiving end of some very unflattering comparisons.

The harder Harris has tried in the last two Test matches the more his rhythm appears to have eluded him. Even his trademark aggression seems to have deserted him. The fact that part-time spinner JP Duminy has looked far more effective than Harris on a turning wicket simply adds to Harris’s woes, as does all the speculation regarding Pakistan-born Imran Tahir’s selection. Although Tahir is no longer in the picture for the final Test match, the fact that he was even considered shows that South Africa are not confident in their spinning department, which will do little to encourage Harris. So as the South African selectors contemplate the composition of the side for the final Test and the upcoming series in India, spare a thought for Harris.

It’s likely that Wanderers groundsman Chris Scott will be asked to prepare a wicket with plenty of pace and bounce which could see the selectors ringing the changes. It’s possible that they will call up another batsman, with Duminy doing the spin duty and Harris carrying the drinks.

Protea coach Mickey Arthur has offered assurances that his team will pull out all the stops to ensure that they give themselves every chance of winning. With England on a high — having been let off the hook by South Africa at Newlands yet again — the Wanderers stage is set for an exciting end to an enthralling series.

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