Friday, 29 January 2016

Proteas on a knife edge

After winning the T20 and ODI series in India late last year, the Proteas suffered one-sided Test series losses against India and then against England at home. This led to South Africa dropping to number two in the world Test cricket rankings behind India, after holding the number one spot for about a decade. Pundits and former players are saying that our time as the dominant team in Test cricket is over. Our best fast bowlers, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, who have spear-headed our success in the past, now suffer frequent injuries, and are growing old.

Kagiso Rabada is breaking records at the tender age of 20. CC Search image.
Furthermore, when AB de Villiers or Hashim Amla do not bat well, the rest of the team usually do not perform well, with senior batsmen Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy in very poor form of late. What is more, I have never seen South Africa drop as many catches as they did in the last two months – probably another side-affect of our lack of confidence. The resignation of Hashim Amla as Test captain stands as a stark indication that times are tough in the dressing room.

I believe that the Proteas are standing on a knife edge, close to falling into a dark place. We are number three in the world in One Day Internationals and sixth in T20 Internationals. Confidence is low. But all is not lost.

Our victory in the final Test match against England shows that our team still has fight left. Coming-of-age bowler Kagiso Rabada (20) finished with figures of 13–144, the second best by any South African in a Test match. This is more than just a glimmer of hope for our future. In addition, it appears that Hashim Amla is back in form. He struggled to score runs throughout 2015, but after relinquishing Test captaincy, the super-batsman is playing with more confidence and focus, which bodes immensely well for us. While AB took over the Test captaincy reins at a difficult time, I believe that he can turn the team around. As I said in my previous blog post, not many players can inspire his teammates like AB can, or put fear into the opposition.

In conclusion, the Proteas are not what they once were, especially in Test cricket. But signs are evident that we can improve, if the players and staff commit to working hard. We have a five-match ODI series against England starting on 3 February, followed two T20 matches. Perhaps we can turn our attention more towards limited overs cricket now – an area we have neglected in the past.

Wednesday, 06 January 2016

Amla's resignation good for South Africa in the long run

The Proteas had worked hard to recover from being put to the sword by the England cricket team. After losing dismally in the first Test match in Durban, England added to the pressure by posting 629–6 declared in the first innings of the second Test in Cape Town. Something inspirational was needed to turn the four-Test series around. This came in the form of our Test captain, Hashim Amla, scoring 201 in reply. His innings revitalised our team, inspiring a comeback on the fourth and fifth days of the Test. We finished our innings on 627–7 declared, with Temba Bavuma scoring a maiden Test hundred. 

So encouraged were the Proteas by Amla's innings, that we declared two runs short of England's score, just so we would have more time to bowl them out. And, our bowlers did well. Wickets kept tumbling. England struggled to survive on the last day, only doing so thanks to wickets being disallowed due to no-balls, and missed chances by the South Africans. England finished the day on 159–6, having abandoned the game a few hours early due to bad light. Then came the shock of the series. Amla resigned as Proteas Test captain, saying that for the previous two weeks he had been thinking that someone else could be doing a better job than him as captain. He also wanted to work on his batting.

Hashim Amla has resigned as Test captain of the Proteas.

As One Day International captain, AB de Villiers brings his own captaincy style to the squad, and for T20 Internationals, Faf du Plessis does the same. While these two are different people, they grew up together, both playing cricket for their school – Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool. They are both hard-working, high-intensity players who rely on skill and labour to do the job. Yes they are intelligent, and know how to be patient while batting, or place a field for certain batsmen for the situation in the game. But for Amla, it was all methodical.

Amla once compared captaincy to a game of chess, where every decision had to be comprehensively thought out before implementation. One could see early on in his captaincy that his field placements were very intentional, much like Graeme Smith's once were. South Africa is going to lose this aspect to its Test game. Yet, I believe that this action will probably turn out better for South Africa in the long run.

AB de Villiers, who was vice-captain in Tests, will replace Amla as captain in the remaining Tests in the series, and hopefully, for the foreseeable future. AB de Villiers inspires players more than Amla does, and through his tenacious batting puts fear into the opposition more than any other batsman in the world. AB has shown that he can be captain and still bat well in the ODIs. With Quinton de Kock ensuring that AB does not have to keep wickets anymore, I think AB can replicate his success in Tests as well. He just needs to learn a few things and he will make a phenomenal Test captain.