Don’t expect a wholesale shake-up of the Proteas ahead of the Sri Lanka tour

2011-11-26 00:00

PERHAPS some people misunderstood my critical appraisal of the South African Test side in the immediate aftermath of their failure to close out the home series against Australia and settle instead for another humdrum share of the spoils.

They accused me of asking more questions than providing answers — presumably seeking my recommendations for changes to the selection brew.

I didn’t offer any because, to be perfectly blunt, I am not especially inclined to, despite my stated frustration over another home series marked by under-achievement.

You don’t need me to tell you that Mark Boucher’s position, in particular, must be hanging by a relative thread.

Gary Kirsten has well nigh admitted as much, and the wicketkeeper himself, a veteran of 141 Tests who has simply got to offer more with the bat, probably knows this anyway.

But my call was much more for all those players in the squad to be prepared to embark on some serious introspection in order to find solutions for South Africa’s all-too-glaring failure to win either matches or series consistently on their own terrain.

I’m not one to believe the introduction of a Rilee Rossouw, Dean Elgar, Thami Tsolekile, Heino Kuhn or even immediate reinstatement of a JP Duminy is going to be the spark that — voila! — suddenly triggers an era of imperious conquest by the Proteas.

Much more, I feel, the core members of the squad need to sit down and thrash out frankly among themselves why they still haven’t been able to put their stamp on the Test-playing world, despite an outrageous amount of talent and proven credentials and experience in the game’s most challenging arena.

In a nutshell, I am not asking them to question their right to a Test berth; rather, they need to establish why they have been unable to bring a ruthlessness and, by extension, a routine winning habit to the party after doing some very promising yards towards that intended state of affairs as many as three or four years ago.

Is this Proteas team — such a settled unit in terms of glowing individual credentials even if results do not reflect their vast potential of the collective — just going to peter out over the next couple of years, without doing justice to the gifts of their talents? I’ll say it again: failure to beat Australia this summer was a bad result by my book, considering the uncertainty and frailty that characterises the current Aussie line-up.

Yet there are some mitigating circumstances, and they can’t be summarily brushed under the carpet.

We always suspected, for one thing, that the Proteas would be almost grotesquely underdone for the series considering the rather comical fact that the vast majority of them had had no first-class cricket at all since the final Test against India during last New Year.

Those fears simply came home to roost as South Africa played some bursts of cricket that see-sawed between the high class and the lamentably incompetent.

Also to consider is how desperately little time Kirsten and his lieutenants have had with their charges; he will have learnt an astonishing amount in a short time, no doubt, and be altogether better able to tweak and fine-tune the game and plug any gaps ahead of Sri Lanka’s visit next month.

Kirsten will stick pretty stoically for the time being to the formula that earned him great success with the Indian Test side: favouring continuity and stability. He has dropped heavy hints in that regard, as has selection chief Andrew Hudson.

He will want to give most of the Proteas’ another chance, after much deeper involvement in their preparation for the Sri Lankan obligations — and for such a vote of confidence, he will expect healthy returns.

So I’d be surprised if we see a big shake-up in the weeks ahead.

Still, we are entitled to demand a pronounced improvement in performance for the remainder of the Test season, which also includes the first visit to New Zealand since 2003/04.

That is severely overdue, and Kirsten and Graeme Smith, among others, will know it. SA cricket will know after Tillakaratne Dilshan and company have departed whether they needs to defy their best instincts and significantly alter the fabric of the side to tackle current pace-setters England on their soil in the red-letter assignment next year.

Call me naive, but with Kirsten’s unflappable approach I still believe most of the members of the existing Proteas squad can and should get it right.

What did worry me was the sense of an all-smiles, all-pals act between the sides after the Wanderers dust had settled, as if a mutually satisfying outcome had been achieved.

The series was played in good spirit and had plenty of exhilarating moments; I’m not questioning that.

But a part of me, I suppose, had hoped for just a bit more hurt and anger from a quality bunch of Proteas players who have still not produced to levels they can achive and to whom, just maybe, that old phrase “comfort zone” might apply.

I hope Kirsten will at least think about that possibility as he settles in to his role. — Sport24.

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