2009-03-13 00:00

SLAUGHTERED. The Aussie wolf, brimming with purpose and intensity, has blown over the house that Graeme and Mickey built almost as soon as they thought their work was done.

After basking in the glory of an unfinished task, the South Africans dozed off only to find out that wounded Australian cricketers never sleep.

The seeds of failure can often be found among the fruits of success, and so it has been with the South African cricket team. Forgetting that the victories Down Under were close-run affairs, the Proteas, along with many others, seemed to have thought that turning up was all they had to do to secure home wins against a team that was starting afresh.

That the lads should have been given some time off to celebrate their rare triumph in Australia is understandable, but it was a mistake to believe that anything less than the meticulous preparation that preceded the trip to Australia would suffice on our own turf.

As I have said before, the failure to provide the players with meaningful cricket prior to the Test matches was a massive mistake.

There seems to be a preoccupation within Cricket SA that resting the players is more important than keeping them in form. No amount of camps and net work can compare with the value of playing a couple of tough first-class matches.

When, for example, did Kallis, the most prolific batsman in South African history, last score a century in any match lasting three days or more? You have to go back to 2007 to find the answer. That is no way to keep your most prized asset in form.

It was a mistake, too, to value consistency of selection over the opportunity to improve the cast. The choice of Mike Procter to head up the national selection committee was welcomed, but he needs to understand that the job does not merely mean pitching up to Test matches and nodding meekly to the wishes of captain and coach.

The continued omission of Ashwell Prince was a grave mistake made solely on the grounds that it was inconvenient to shuffle a batting order that was comfortable with itself. Success and comfort are poor bedfellows. Growth in all things comes from moving away from that which is comfortable in order to face new challenges.

Along with the captain, Prince was our most valuable batsman in England. Leaving him out of the team when he was fit again should never have been countenanced.

His record against the tougher teams in world cricket ever since he scored a century in Sydney on the last tour of Australia has been one of unbroken success.

He may or may not have made a difference in the lost Test matches: we will never know. One cannot help feeling, however, that his grit, determination and technique were badly missed in the two first innings that left us so far behind the Aussies on both occasions.

One must also question the bowling tactics of the first two Tests. The length that should have been bowled at Kingsmead was bowled at the Wanderers and vice versa. The determination of the correct length is one of the skills of bowling, but in the first Test the fast bowlers were consistently too short in conditions that cried out for a fuller delivery.

It then seemed that the bowlers were told to pitch it up in Durban when they should have been banging it in just short of a length.

The sadness is that the chance for this group of players to be recognised as the number one Test team has now gone. It is unlikely that Kallis, Boucher and Ntini will play any further Tests against Australia given that these absurd back-to-back series come round only every four years.

These three represent some mighty cricket talent that will not be easily replaced. They were the spine of a good team that held the highest ground for a moment so brief that it might just as well have been an illusion.

A new core will have to be found for Smith’s team. The dilemma is when to start replacing those that form the present one. The history of cricket tells us that the sooner the better, but none of their replacements is in sight. Ntini will be the first to go, but 15 years of the new order have not produced any bowler who has the ability to take the near-400 Test wickets that are stacked in Makhaya’s locker.

Kallis and Boucher will be required to deal with England later this year, but the selectors need to start pencilling in those who might replace them. I have my eyes on two youngsters of stunning potential who could do the job in a couple of years, but it will require the kind of bold foresight and action that has delivered the 20-year-old Philip Hughes into Ricky Ponting’s hands.

Amid some chaos, a changed team and new captain have been found for Newlands. Prince has been asked to open the batting, a move which is evocative of something to do with bulls and gates. Morne Morkel has been sent away to refine his skills, which is fair enough, but I cannot see either of his possible replacements adding to the team’s capacity to take 20 wickets.

Our best fast bowler, apart from Steyn, is Charl Langeveldt, but that would have been a step too far for this band of selectors.

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