Wed, 27 Mar 2019

POP! Did you hear Proteas? bubble burst?

News24
17 Feb 2019, 05:37 GMT+10

Cape Town - A bit less Rambo, a little more Stephen Hawking.

That's the sort of thought - or concern, more specifically - that had been gnawing away at me for some time, even with the Proteas winning considerably more Test series than they have been losing in the Ottis Gibson tenure as head coach.

I am unlikely to be alone in believing that the marriage between their heavily pace-dominated, testosterone-driven bowling and the specialist batting department has been a consistently uneasy one: too often the bullying former has been bailing out the all too regularly brittle latter.

It is almost as if "250 has become the new 450" in the minds of the South African players and their advisors: in other words, don't worry too much about the frequent lack of major totals because we'll just bomb out the opposition for even fewer runs.

The home summer, featuring thus far a 3-0 sweep of Pakistan, had largely been no different ... until dramatic Saturday at Kingsmead, that is.

In many senses the Proteas' world came crashing down, as an innings rightly lauded by Faf du Plessis as the stuff of "Superman" by Sri Lanka's Kusal Perera steered the unheralded, currently sixth-ranked on the ICC ladder visitors to a fairy-tale one-wicket triumph on day four of the first Test.

Perera's seemingly nerveless, always resourceful and gutsy 153 not out, off exactly 200 balls, warrants a suitably elevated place in the all-time Test cricket hall of fame, as he crucially accounted for more than half the required runs in a stiff chase of 304.

For the way it secured the unlikeliest of wins - including featuring an astonishing world record fourth-innings stand of 78 for the last wicket in a winning cause with supposed batting no-hoper Vishwa Fernando - I would place the knock in the same league, in the modern Test era, as Graeme Smith's series-deciding 154 not out for South Africa against England at Edgbaston in 2008 when the ball was spitting out of the rough repeatedly for Monty Panesar on a badly worn surface.

Yet this result was perhaps even more of a turn-up for the books, considering the backdrop: the 'Lankans had arrived only a few days before the Kingsmead contest, and having been whipped in successive, fatiguing away series against each of New Zealand and Australia.

Early signs that the Proteas may have veered a tad toward preparatory complacency in the lead-up came when, very early in the Durban clash, Quinton de Kock (one of few SA batsmen to play to his potential, mind) admitted in a media briefing that they had been "caught off guard ... a bit unaware" by some of the new faces in the visiting line-up.

The shock loss has also - already - ensured that the Proteas will not be able to claim "mission accomplished" in their Test summer: they had had good reason to assume that series triumphs over both the Pakistanis and Sri Lankans represented minimum target for the season, and the best they can get against the latter now is a mediocre 1-1 outcome.

Even if they do roar back at St George's Park in the closing fixture from Thursday, the short series represents a jolt to the Proteas' quest to return to global supremacy in the five-day game.

As for the currently cock-a-hoop Sri Lankans, they are invitingly on the cusp of becoming the first Subcontinent outfit to win a Test series in South Africa, if they can simply stave off defeat in the Friendly City to scamper off with the spoils.

South Africa have played some risky, arguably too cavalier Test cricket of late, and this Durban near-debacle also underlined that their frontline batting may be due a significant shake-up.

Dangerously few of their present top five, for instance, look bedded down in their particular positions, and the situation is aggravated by supposedly core, highly experienced customers like Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar skating on ever-thinning ice.

Hopefully Kingsmead was first and foremost, though, a serious collective wake-up call; a reminder that smartness and patience remain key aides in the time-honoured format ...

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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