Peter Robinson

Proteas better than that

2005-04-05 12:30

Great rearguard actions are the stuff of cricket legend.

Remember Michael Atherton's unbeaten 185 at the Wanderers nine years ago? It was an innings that defined the former England captain (and pretty much ended Clive Eksteen's Test career).

Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs produced a similarly resolute effort to the Atherton-Jack Russell effort in Georgetown on Monday, putting on 139 for the fourth wicket to save the first Test.

Yet somehow the South African epic seemed to lack the epic qualities displayed by the England captain and his wicketkeeper at the Wanderers.

The reason for this, I think, is that as well as Kallis and Gibbs played, as stoutly as they defended, there was always a sense that this was how South Africa should have batted against a limited West Indies attack on a flat pitch.

The point is that most rearguard actions are provoked by horrible cricket from the side that finds itself grimly playing out time. In South Africa's case the horrible cricket came during the first three-and-a-half days.

No one, not even the most fervent West Indies supporter could have expected the match to be so lopsided, in their favour, as the first innings were played out.

With the exception of Andre Nel, the South African bowlers lacked energy, enthusiasm and expertise on a pitch that yielded two double centuries.

Yet just hours later the South African batting had collapsed. Where the South African bowlers had been toothless, their West Indies counterparts swung the new and old ball. Daren Powell, sent packing by Gauteng two summers ago, looked an awkward prospect, finding enough in the pitch to hurry the South Africans.

Lack of experience

And this, remember, was a West Indies second string.

By the fifth day, though, the home team's lack of experience caught up with them. They were unable to put South Africa away, a failing displayed by Graeme Smith's side at frequent intervals during the series against England.

The only positive that South Africa can take from the first Test was that they played badly and managed to get away with a draw. With the benefit of hindsight it can now be seen that the tourists need more pace in their attack and they need Shaun Pollock.

A call-up for Monde Zondeki might go some way towards solving the first of these problems, but the South Africans will have to do without Pollock in Trinidad. And so it falls to Makhaya Ntini to shrug off the lethargy that seems to overtake him in the Caribbean and lead the attack.

He is the senior bowler in the side and needs to accept the responsibility.

The position of Jacques Rudolph might have to be reassessed. He's out of form and short of confidence and Ashwell Prince is surely banging on the door, even if selecting Prince would necessitate more tinkering with the batting order.

Finally, the decision to go into the first Test without a warm-up match was an avoidable mistake, one compounded by the continuing speculation over the future of the coach. These last issues demonstrate the uncertainty that still dogs South African cricket.

Indecision off the field influences what happens on it, and for far too long the men in charge have fumbled nearly everything that's come their way.

South Africa are a better team than they showed in the first Test. Against a stronger West Indies side, they'll need to be better.

Send your comments to Peter or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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