T20 fallout: Where to now, SA?

2007-09-26 08:36

Rob Houwing

Cricket's always been a funny old game and, for the South African team, it just got a whole lot funnier.

Only I'm not talking barrel-of-laughs stuff here: rather, I'm examining the (largely humour-free, actually) fallout for the national cause of the Proteas' failure to reach the last four at the inaugural Twenty20 global jamboree in their own backyard.

I've long been of the view that South Africa are a team going sideways... and 'upward' doesn't look on the cards just yet as these men of jittery mental disposition now contemplate an assignment so unlike the T20 slugfest as to appear a sick joke.

For two Tests in Pakistan - inevitably, security concerns preceded departure! - loom horribly large.

I say 'horribly' not because of any Botham-esque reservations about that good land but because preparation for the exercise could hardly have been less ideal.

Straight from a T20 mindset to Test matches in one of the subcontinent's most challenging arenas: it's a bit like asking an Eskimo to strip to a vest and suddenly do a Sahara Desert 'iron-man', isn't it?

Of course, it would have helped from a general morale point of view if Graeme Smith's team had gone all (or almost all) the way in the Twenty20 tournament: instead, the Indian debacle at Kingsmead will only have pumped fresh doses of self-doubt into already fragile veins.

It will need 'fresh' players like Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince, who rightly or wrongly sat out the T20 disappointment, to gee up the crossover troops.

But I use the term 'fresh' cautiously... in what sort of 'nick', after all, will these key Test batsmen be? Both have come out of an unusually wet Cape winter, played no county cricket, and got none of the 'middle' exposure enjoyed by those who did take part in the 13-day pre-summer extravaganza.

Prince did see some action for SA 'A' in India, but the two-'Test' series there was badly rain-curtailed.

Is one, token three-day warm-up fixture in Pakistan going to prepare SA adequately for the trial by notoriously abrasive surface in the Tests? You have to wonder.

I'd settle for a 0-0 or 1-1 share of the spoils for Smithy's embattled soldiers at this juncture. Wouldn't you?

Forgive me, but I can't resist closing with an "I told you so": I banged the drum in each of my two previous columns about SA's insufficient specialist batting resources for the T20, bearing in mind the possibility that at some stage they might find themselves in a wee spot of bother on a spicy springtime track. Now, good folk, I rest my case...

  • Robert Houwing is editor of The Wisden Cricketer magazine.

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