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Neil Van Der Linde
 
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1st Test Lessons – Where do we go from here?

17 February 2014, 10:22

In a weekend filled with upsets and disappointments from a personal perspective, my Saturday ended up being one full of pure entertainments albeit I ended up on the wrong side of the supporter spectrum. Despite the Force de Frappe of Mitchell Johnson continuing his brutalizing form from the Ashes, there was a lot to smile at from a fan perspective. It’s not everyday that you see 150km/h whoppers being sent down with insane accuracy. A highlight package of his brutal spells closely resembles a war movie with an American soldier being stuck a barrage of poisonous Vietnamese pygmy arrows. Don’t be surprised if a few SA players experience bomb-shock driven terror attacks, through dreadful nightmares, where a fiery red ball bounces into their heads, torsos, arms and more.

Yes, the psychological battle was won even before the first ball was bowled. The premature retirement of the great Jacques Kallis brought about memories of the Swann and Trott swansong throughout the Ashes. Even though numbers apparently don’t matter to King Kallis, one can’t help but wonder what could drive him to give up tantalizingly short of surpassing Ponting in the all time runs columns and also 8 wickets shy of the magic 300 marks and becoming only the 5th South African to do so. Moreover it’s not like there was a long tour on the cards and perhaps if he didn’t have to face messieurs Johnson and the likes, he might have considered giving his body one last run around the park in a final series. The fact that he didn’t, just emphasized the psychological fear already imprinted prior to the tour. We should have provided the first counter shot when Smith won the toss, but we failed to land the blow when he admittedly erred in his decision to bowl first. Australia capitalized on a good “toss to lose” and the rest is history.

The Aussies are currently a well oiled machine riding on a wave of confidence. The amount of test cricket, and the annihilation of the English, make them even better prepared and formidable. Kudo’s to Darren Lehman and his coaching team for taking a sinking ship and turning it into a war-vessel by just sticking to the basics. The Aussies currently play with a four seam attack, thereby relying heavily on their top quartet to do the damage. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from this approach. One that the SA selectors should take to heart before the beginning of the next test. Psychological scars are hard to heal but few better plasters exist than introducing new blood. England players struggled in most cases to exert any form of resistance but one of the few anomalies was the performance of the rookie Ben Stokes.  His tenaciousness was n breath of fresh air in a dismal series and a lot can be learned from that. Sometimes real hunger combined with raw talent means more than experience.

Ian Bell was also never dismissed by Johnson showing signs that Mitchell is mortal, albeit that Siddle and Harris ensured that his confidence could never reach blasé levels. AB also demonstrated promise that Johnson is playable – never more so than with his mouthwatering six. Nevertheless a lot of work is needed and in my opinion we need to tweak the first 11 a bit and perhaps invest in some young talent.

Here’s a look at our team stats over the last couple of seasons (since the beginning of 2012).

  • Graeme Smith (1490 runs at 46.5 average with 4 hundreds in 35 innings)
  • Alviro Pieterson: (1256 runs at 40.5 average with 4 hundreds in 35 innings)
  • Hashim Amla: (1749 runs at 62.5 average with 6 hundreds in 32 innings)
  • Faf Du Plessis (803 runs at 53.5 average with 3 hundreds in 18 innings)
  • AB de Villiers (1887 runs at 67.39 average with 6 hundreds in 31 innings)
  • JP Duminy (405 runs at 36.8 average with 1 hundred in 14 innings)
  • Ryan Mclaren (47 runs at 23.5 average with 0 hundreds in 3 innings and 3 wickets at 54 average)
  • Robin Peterson (24 wickets at 38.29 average with 0 5W in 9 tests)
  • Vernon Philander (82 wickets at 20.62 average with 5 5W in 18 tests)
  • Dale Steyn (96 wickets at 22.90 average with 5 5W in 20 tests)
  • Morne Morkel (58 wickets at 30.74 average with 2 5W in 19 tests)

These stats show a few kinks in the Armour of the leading test nation in the world. With a 40 average at the top of the order Alviro is still toeing the bucket to an edge of falling, even though his recent series against India (a fifty+ score in each test) might be his current saving grace. But don’t be surprised to see Dean Elgar challenging for the opening birth more strongly if Peterson can’t up the ante very soon. Graeme Smith might not be in top form of late but over the last couple of seasons they have been fantastic and therefore their spots are very safe of late.

Faf du Plessis showed some fleeting signs of his schoolboy promise in a short test career to date. However, he still lacks the consistency acquired of a regular number 4 batsmen which is normally reserved for the best batsmen in the team. I think he best serves the team from the number 5 spot. This however places the spotlight directly onto the teams best batsmen in AB de Villiers. The conundrum of him keeping wicket makes it increasingly more difficult to carry the weight of the premier scalp in the absence of Kallis. Statistics prove that he is our best batsmen and should therefore be treated as such and occupy the number 4 slot going forward. This opens up the door for Quinton de Kock to slot in at 6 and start a hopefully Gilchrist-ish career. As per the old adage “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” the selectors must put away any reservations and take a leap of faith in this youngsters abilities. All of Kallis, Ponting, AB, Graeme Smith and the likes debuted at a similar age.

This will strengthen the batting line-up immensely with Duminy given more freedom  at number 7. He has yet to solidify his place in the test side with a number of unconvincing starts. But he has the talent to justify the selectors to have a bit more patience in him and give him an extended run. Add to this his off spin capabilities and he might become a more realistic all rounder solution in the future.

This brings to fore the place of Robin Peterson. At a bowling average of 38 over the last few seasons it looks more and more like he is expected to do a holding job more than serving as an attacking weapon. With Duminy at number 7 he can be given more responsibility to take over this holding job. I expect him to really perform in this dual roll.

This moves the focus on the attack. Especially in SA conditions we need a genuine seam attack and in this we can mirror the Aussie selection mentality. Philander, Morkel and Steyn pick themselves. But who will fill the fourth seamer roll. Ryan Mclaren and Wayne Parnell currently have the inside lane but both are more alrounder type of players than genuine seamers. I will therefore cast my net a bit wider and consider the likes of Kyle Abbott (who did a fantastic job with his sole opportunity at this level – 9/68) or Beuran Hendricks who’s currently the pick of the local talent. I’ll put my money behind the young Hendricks from what I’ve seen in his abilities.

Therefore my starting 11 in an ideal world will look as follows for the 2nd test:

Graeme Smith (c), Alviro Peterson, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock (w/k), JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Beuran Hendricks.

Finally my thoughts of attending day 4 of the cricket. Once again the venue proved a spectacular setting. Coupled with glorious sunshine, ice cold beers and the smell of boerewors in the air this remains one of the finest sporting experiences in South Africa. I always highly recommend attending the Centurion test. Few venues are better suited to create an epic experience. Pretoria people are highly knowledgeable about the game and always high in spirit. Once again new friends were made while stretching out on the awesome green grass embankment. I was also very impressed with the organizing of the event, especially pertaining to the food stalls and bars which operated smoothly and limited long cues. In the future it will however be nice to have more toilets and perhaps consider the portable urinals to make congestion at the long drops a little more bearable. It will also be awesome if they could provide a wider variety of choice when buying drinks. I understand that Castle is the main sponsor but it shouldn’t cannibalize from the brand when they serve products from the SAB umbrella like Black Label or Catle Lite at least.

Things to remember in the future:

- Wear Sunscreen – and apply it smoothly to prevent burned patches! Ouch

- Go early – Get a spot to put up a umbrella or a gazebo. The view from the gazebo area is restricted though so I’ll recommend taking the umbrella option. Also note that the designated areas are marked (not very well) and you can’t go beyond a certain point with your umbrella. The umbrella space is small so GO EARLY….

- Draw money prior to the game. The queue at the ATM is ridiculous

- Don’t slip in tot packs. Not because it’s impossible, but those tot packs are near poisonous with a buttery (yes buttery) after-taste that still lingers the next day

- Gautrain game – the track of this new mode of transport forms the backdrop of this beautiful ground. With this change comes new opportunity – not only for commuting to the venue from different spots, but also to partake in a fun drinking game. The rules are simple… every time the train passes each person must raise their drink and salute the train by saying Gautrain. The last person to do so has to down their current drink. Fun in the sun except if you feel like the train ran over you the following day.

- Food and water: Remember you can take your own food and non-alcoholic drinks into the stadium. So pack a cooler and ensure that you keep hydrated and carbo loaded without breaking the bank.

- Dress up: There are always prizes and it adds to the spirit.

- Don’t be a doos: Don’t moan when people walk over your blanket. The space is limited and everyone is just there to have fun. Mingle and make friends with your neighbours. It all adds to the epicness.

- Don’t cry: It’s just cricket so don’t worry too much when we get thumped. Even in the losses a good time can be had by all. I attended the now famous Hansie-gate test at this venue where both us and England declared an innings each. Despite losing, this was one of the best experiences ever. First in singing patriotic songs in response to the Blarney Army anthems and then later joining them in singing songs from both sides of the fence. Glory days.

For more of my opinions please visit www.thebizz.biz

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