Sport24 asked: Having last played Test cricket in February, unsurprising South Africa have struggled to find their feet in the first Test?
Pat Symcox: No, to be honest I’m a little surprised that the Proteas find themselves on the back foot, because modern cricketers are generally very good at switching on and off and between formats. Nowadays players have highly impressive facilities at their disposal all-year-round. As such, I wouldn’t subscribe a poor performance completely to ring-rustiness.
Sport24 asked: Have the Proteas become over-reliant on Hashim Amla’s batting heroics?
Pat Symcox: I don’t believe so. I’m of the view that we possess enough top quality players in our batting line-up to trouble any side in world cricket. In this Test match in particular think it’s been more a case of players getting in and then failing to capitalize. In the first innings for example, there were a few soft dismissals particularly in the middle order and the tail was poor in terms of their shot selection against spin. I believe the key is to rotate the strike and become more confident.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of the playing surface at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi?
Pat Symcox: From what I can gather, the wicket is low and slow – your typical sub-continental track. The key when you play one such a surface is that when you bat you have to post a big score in your first innings, because as the Test match progresses so the wicket deteriorates, which makes run-scoring ever more challenging. On the sub-continent it’s even more crucial to mount a score which the bowlers can defend. Ideally, one of the top five in your batting order need to score a big century and on those type of wickets patience is a virtue.
Sport24 asked: In your book, how good, bad or average is the sixth-ranked Pakistani Test team?
Pat Symcox: Compared to Pakistan teams of old, I don’t regard the current crop as a great side. While spinner Saeed Ajmal is a special player who is right up there, there is no one else in the current side who really strikes fear into the heart of their opponents like Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram did during my playing days. The current side is inconsistent and quite frankly in disarray, which makes the Proteas’ performance even more disappointing.
Sport24 asked: Your thoughts on the selection of Robin Peterson ahead of Imran Tahir…
Pat Symcox: Over the last while Peterson has been the Proteas’ go-to-guy. While Tahir does bowl the odd ball that takes a wicket, he was a disaster for South Africa in the last few Tests he played. While Peterson is also inconsistent and is suffering a fairly lean spell himself, he offers more solidity to the batting order. I’ve been impressed with JP Duminy, who offers the perfect foil to Peterson. For me he has always been more than a part-time bowler. He is a very capable off-spinner and on the subcontinent in particular, fits the mould as an all-rounder.
Sport24 asked: Are South Africa’s batsmen coping better with spin bowling now than in the past?
Pat Symcox: The records will show that South Africans have battled to get the better of spin. However, I’m not entirely convinced. I believe that the likes of Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers are now more adept at playing spin. That said, if a spinner bowls the most overs in a match, odds are that he will take the highest wicket haul as has proved the case with Ajmal.
Sport24 asked: Does a two-Test series disappoint cricket purists and devalue the five-day format?
Pat Symcox: Playing only two Tests certainly disappoints the purists, of which I am one. Lose the first Test and you can’t win the series. I’m surprised that any board would agree to a two-Test series. I’m sure that if the decision was referred to the players, none of them would be keen on such a short series, if one can call it that. I believe we must play at least three Tests or none at all. There’s no doubt that a greater emphasis is now placed on the shorter formats of the game owing to the revenue generated. As such, Test cricket really is on the back-burner. I believe it’s essential that we keep Test cricket alive. While I understand the place for the ODI and T20 formats, I’m a traditionalist at heart and love Test matches.
Sport24 asked: When the players are able to enjoy some free time, what’s there to do in Dubai?
Pat Symcox: Off days in Dubai mean shopping for some players, movies or golf for others – there are a number of great courses. Generally, however, the players will get in as much rest time as possible and lay by the pool to cope with the heat and recharge their batteries. I was part of the Proteas side that won the 1996 Sharjah Cup in the UAE and at temperatures of between 35-40 degrees; I can tell you that it’s no fun running around the shopping centres.
Sport24 asked: Talking about the heat, do you think the new ice-vests are a good innovation?
Pat Symcox: The vests are inventive, but when it’s hot it’s hot. Modern players are well travelled and heat is a factor that they have learnt to cope with. In my view, the best way to handle the heat is for one’s batting line-up to pile on the runs allowing the rest of the team to remain in the air-conditioned change room.