Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 5th day

South Africa need more killer instinct

Despite reaching the No. 1 rankings, Graeme Smith's side is yet to win two Test matches in succession in almost three years

Firdose Moonda at the Gabba

November 13, 2012

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

South Africa didn't have a successful fourth day, Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, 4th day, Brisbane, November 12, 2012
After taking charge of the Test by reducing Australia to 3 for 40, South Africa just couldn't maintain the pressure © Getty Images

The uncomfortable truth facing South Africa at the end of the first Test in Australia is not that they went from a position of domination to one where defeat was a genuine possibility. It is not that they misread conditions and fielded an all-pace attack with heavy dependence on a part-time spinner who was then injured. It is not even that their highly-rated attack was finally tamed by an unresponsive surface and their top order bowled out twice.

It is that they have not managed to win two Test matches in succession for their last 21 games - a period which stretches back almost three years - and the last time they won two matches in the same series was four years ago in Australia. Apart from Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the only other team that has not won back-to-back Tests in the last year is Sri Lanka.

The statistic could speak to conditions or conservative tactics but in South Africa's case it probably indicates one of their most well-documented flaws: the lack of a killer instinct. As a unit, South Africa are entirely capable of creating pressure well but they don't always maintain it with the same rigour.

This match contained a perfect example of that. With Australia 3 for 40, there was a gap for South Africa to widen. Instead, the bowlers allowed Ed Cowan and Michael Clarke to dictate proceedings, with Clarke particularly aggressive. In response, South Africa's bowlers got shorter, instead of fuller and offered width instead of bowl tight lines.

When Australia reached the close on day three on 3 for 111, with Cowan having survived being caught behind because Morne Morkel overstepped, the momentum had already shifted. Graeme Smith recognised that that one moment could have changed their mindset irreparably as the match wore on. "Potentially they could have been four down overnight and we took that [disappointment] into out bowling the next day and sort of just meandered along," he admitted.

Despondent with yet another Morkel wicket off a no-ball, South Africa did not return more determined the next day. They came back even more bedraggled and had a day which brought back memories of Colombo 2006 and the record partnership between Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

While Cowan and Clarke did not put on 624, they wore down South Africa's attack, who ran out of ideas on a surface which offered them nothing. "Michael [Clarke] and Cowan transferred the pressure on to us and we didn't quite respond in the way I have got used to our guys responding. I just don't think we backed up well enough," Smith said. "We didn't bowl well enough in partnerships. We had periods where we were good and then we lost our way." Identifying key moments and reacting to them in the right way is what South Africa pinpointed as the area which they needed to improve on most when Kirsten took over as coach. So far, they have not consistently succeeded in doing that.

Against Sri Lanka last year, they won comprehensively in Centurion but seemed to fall into their usual pattern of over-relaxing around the Christmas holiday period in Durban. Complacency and a hoodoo venue, in other words, lapses of the mind, revealed themselves as under-performance on the field.

Against New Zealand, victory in Hamilton should have been followed by victory in Wellington. Smith's declaration showed he was headed that way, although he set New Zealand a target of 389 to win which seemed unlikely. South African's bowlers enjoyed early successes but then ran into a stubborn Kane Williamson and eventually gave up trying to get him out.

Afterwards, Smith said New Zealand did not "deserve" more than improbable target. He seemed as annoyed with their slow run-rate as some were with South Africa's when AB de Villiers and Jacques Rudolph ate up deliveries in the first innings at the Gabba and so Smith wanted to punish New Zealand by denying them even the temptation of a dangled carrot.

On their previous tour in England, though, there were signs that South Africa could sustain their efforts, both physically and mentally. The massive first innings total, declaration and subsequent victory at the Oval moved on to a sporting declaration at Leeds which could have turned into a result with more time - in a similar way as Clarke's could have done at the Gabba.

Even though South Africa only needed a draw at Lord's to go to No.1, they played aggressively throughout the match. But, that style of play was pushed along by a desperate England outfit as much as it was by South Africa. Where the stakes were not as high, like in Brisbane, neither was the hunger.

It was easier to finger the pitch which Smith said "didn't live up to the hype of the build-up," or forgive the bowlers who "majority of the time rock up and perform really well," than actively seek out a way to turn the match into a result. South Africa were happy to play to whatever level was required of them to do just enough and no more.

Previous South African teams have been accused of competing only on the level their opposition requires them to and this one also looks that way at times. The reality is that South Africa are not chasing this series and do not have to move the game along as much as Australia do.

To reclaim the No.1 ranking, Australia have to win the series. All South Africa have to do is make sure they do not lose. That is something they have become astoundingly astute at as their enviable unbeaten streak on the road proves. South Africa could even argue that even though they have not strung together the same amount of victories as other teams, it is them and not the others, who are currently ranked No.1 in the world. They could also find that in order to stay there, that will have to change.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by mikey76 on (November 14, 2012, 20:08 GMT)

Ross_co. I think England beat Australia not so long ago and quite handsomely at that. We're also ranked higher and man for man have a much better team/squad of players. SA had a poor day at the office on what was a pudding of a surface. Just wait until the series is over and the one in India and then we will truly know where these teams stand.

Posted by AF2199 on (November 14, 2012, 17:43 GMT)

@ Eben Geldenhuis.......... If just you had read my comment thoroughly, I meant to say that all the attacks I mentioned in my comment have atleat 2 or 3 match winning and exceptional bowlers, I did not say Styne is ordinary (even to be honest I really think he is just an over rated bowler, tell me number of games he single handedely won for SA as compared to warne, wasim, waqar or ambrose), I just meantto say right now in the world cricket not a single attach has more than one exceptional bowler in their line up and you can not get 20 wickets in a test depending on only one bowler. So please read carefully rather than jumping to the conclusion of the comment someone made. cheers

Posted by   on (November 14, 2012, 15:12 GMT)

We have played 1 test match since becoming number one, I don't see how there could be such expectation from the cricketing world that we much now just lay waste to everyone every game. This game hit us hard on a personel level with Duminy a spectator on the team sheet, that and the general effort in the field being lower than I have seen in a very long time.

If Australia beat us then so be it, then perhaps they deserve it, but there are still tests to be played and I am dead sure the shackles will break.

Posted by Nick636 on (November 14, 2012, 15:02 GMT)

@ Meety

Spot on. I'm South African, and it is possibly the most frustrating thing to see. We have ALWAYS suffered (Specially against the Aussies) to close out the tail. We get complacent. Andre Nel was great for that exact reason.. He would get fired up and instead of lose it, he'd bowl better and really bowl hard at the batsmen.

We need to bowl like we ARE the No1 team. That doesn't even necessarily mean line and length etc, more about ATTITUDE!!! Australia can walk in with a third rate bowling attack, BUT they will run in and sledge like they are undoubtedly the best, and that pays off.

Posted by Highflyer_GP on (November 14, 2012, 14:20 GMT)

"and the last time they won two matches in the same series was four years ago in Australia" - no, the last time they won two matches in the same series was against England a few months ago, and against Sri Lanka a few months before that.

Posted by   on (November 14, 2012, 13:05 GMT)

This is an absurd article. As soon as we became number one everyone was ranting and raving about how much we deserve it, and how we have transformed into a deadly mean machine, and now because of 2(maybe 3) bad days we are now lacking a killer instinct? Really?

Posted by   on (November 14, 2012, 12:50 GMT)

South Africa is the 'best team in the world'. Every team have their one off test and the fact of the matter is SA were a player short. JP Duminy would have made a big difference in Sa's score and run rate. If he was there the run rate would not have been under 3. And I think next match they should bring in Peterson for Kleinveldt and FAF for Duminy. Robin Peterson can bat and he has more control over the ball than Imran Tahir Tahir would be a better choice at Sydney but there is no test at The SCG. So RP would be a better pick. And the wicket was a batting paradise. Aussies bowled well and created pressure. Thats why Sa were 166/5 in the second innings If it was a low quality bowling attack,they would have been 166 for 1/2

Posted by Meety on (November 14, 2012, 11:57 GMT)

@Etienne de Beer - ever since your mob beat us 2-1 here, I thought your boys are the #1 side, but time & time again they have failed (IMO), to dominant the Test world. That is what people are talking about. Pretty much everyone (barring jonesy2) would say that on paper - Sth Africa are the best team in the world. They are current #1s, it's time for them to play like it. I do concede that the JP Duminy injury probably affected their performance. Bodes well for a great re-match at Adelaide, hopefully no injuries to either side & no recalled batsmen off a no-ball!!!!!!

Posted by Nick636 on (November 14, 2012, 11:00 GMT)

At the end of the day, Smith needs to start acting like a captain;

Come down on guys that under perform, and, as is more important, look in a mirror and question his own decisions. Captains are supposed to be an inspiration on the field, not sit back with arms folded, chewing their gum, setting lost/scared defensive fields.

Also, the selectors need to be decisive. Morkel is overstepping WAY too often. It is getting worse and worse.. So, CUT HIM IF HE DOESN'T GET BETTER.

Finally, you can't have 4 bowlers bowl an entire innings, specially not in the Gabba heat. YOU HAVE TO HAVE A PLAN B, NO MATTER WHAT!

Posted by   on (November 14, 2012, 7:25 GMT)

I find it bizarre that South Africa plays one ordinary match and suddenly all the praise-singers that arose after the English series are back-tracking and arguing "well actually they're not that great". They had one bad game. And they still managed to salvage a draw. What is the basis of saying that this team "is not chasing this series?", they have expressed on numerous occasions how important winning this series is for them. The fact that they underperformed in Brisbane does not speak to a lack of desire to win, it speaks to a poor performance. They will bounce back - and then suddenly Firdose Moonda will believe us to be a team of greats again. We are not a team of greats yet, but nor are we a team that lacks drive or consistency. And we are the best team in the world at the given moment - despite ONE bad performance.

Posted by Ross_Co on (November 14, 2012, 7:16 GMT)

The problem for SA is that after gobbling up blancmange they've bitten into a very tough steak indeed. Really they should have played Australia BEFORE 'England'.

Posted by   on (November 14, 2012, 6:18 GMT)

I am inclined to think everything is taken out of context in a automatic knee-jerk reaction. I don't think Smith or any of the players or management will tell you any different that it was just a very poor display notably with the ball, and that the selection was ultimately incorrect more so the absence of a spinner that would have caused a few problems on a pitch with bounce and turn.

Many point to 40/3 and state we lacked the killer instinct like we weren't trying to get them out, once the pitch went from a green tinge to baron white and unresponsive we for the first time since the Kolkata defeat were completely out of idea's and perseverance which was rather uncharacteristic of the team. As for our ability to bowl a team out on flat decks; Nagpur where Morkel droped a ball half way down and it barely passed Tendulkar's knee roll, Dale Steyn took 7-51 and 11 in the match, then you look at the recent Lords and Oval victories with Steyn and Philander taking 5 wickets.

Posted by   on (November 14, 2012, 4:36 GMT)

The "uncomfortable truth" is they did pretty well a player short.

Posted by Biggus on (November 14, 2012, 4:32 GMT)

@Eben Geldenhuis-No one doubts that the Saffers will come back strongly at Australia, however this article isn't really all about one game but a perceived tendency by them to cruise when they should be at their most vigilant and fired up. The truth is they've underperformed over a number of years and rather then trying to deny it surely discussing it is more likely to create solutions since this apparent phenomenon does indeed seem to be a reality rather than a fiction. As an Aussie I was stunned they didn't give us a caning on the first day, we surely bowled badly enough to warrant it, and it would have been second nature for us to do so had the positions been reversed. In fact to not have done so would have created raised eyebrows around the ground and questions in the dressing room afterwards. Nevertheless, if you're completely happy with how things are and don't feel there's an issue, so be it, it's your team anyway, not mine.

Posted by   on (November 14, 2012, 1:55 GMT)

So funny when people judge a team on one game, or even worse, on one day! After day 1 Aussie was getting ripped into, and after 3 more days SA is getting ripped into. For instance: AF2199 calling Dale Steyn ordinary..... You will eat your words - again and again! Accept that some games players fire some games they dont. You dont become "ordinary" on the back of one game. Ponting is a prime example. Bring on game 2 and expect the contest to be much tighter.

Posted by kensohatter on (November 14, 2012, 1:20 GMT)

@JasonBray... I agree the prob with SA is depth. They are a great side and on paper look stronger than Australia. For me though im not yet convinced on the greatness of their bowling attack. Steyn no doubt is class but Morkel kinda reminds of Steve Finn in that he is good and gets bounce but lacks some discipline and is not consistent. Philander has had a great start to test cricket but that is no different to Australias Stuart Clark who then levelled out to mere mortal test averages. Next test will be interesting. If Ponting finds some form and Watson comes back from injury than all of a sudden Australia look pretty impressive.

Posted by Meety on (November 14, 2012, 0:41 GMT)

@RoJayao on (November 13 2012, 23:04 PM GMT) - they won two nil, but it was Win/Draw/Win. Not consecutive!

Posted by RoJayao on (November 13, 2012, 23:04 GMT)

Actually the Saffers won 2-0 in England this year, but if it's true they're only winning one test a series mostly then that is pretty ordinary for the no.1 ranked side. They certainly have the talent, though spin is still their Achilles heal and costs them more test wins. But certainly the biggest problem is the captain Smith. He is VERY average! I'd put him in the Dhoni/Ponting league, capable with a good team behind him but with no plan B, no inspiration, no creativity. SA's reign at number 1 will be brief.

Posted by Haleos on (November 13, 2012, 15:01 GMT)

Truth is firdose SA since that first world cup semi final loss have never recovered. Thats the reason the "C" word is so tightly associated with them.

Posted by TJamu on (November 13, 2012, 14:28 GMT)

One could not have put this any other way. This is South Africa's problem, they don't have the killer instinct in their game. It has cost them the number 1 Test position for quite a while. Hope to see a correction to this in the remaining 2 Tests.

Posted by Chestnutgrey on (November 13, 2012, 14:22 GMT)

Rory Kleinveldt does not inspire confidence. Well, the SA squad looks a bit thin. They seem to have good, talented players in the Champions League. I thought some of them would do well in the longer versions too. And they really need to stop this silly thing with AB donning the gloves. Leave it to a specialist. Merchant de Lange is sorely missed. The entire bowling unit looks a bit weak, apart from Steyn and Morkel. You look at Australia. They have a set of bowlers sitting out, who could probably make the first XI in any team-Cummins, Harris, Starc, Beer, Johnson.

Posted by   on (November 13, 2012, 13:59 GMT)

Can any South African out there please explain to me the mind set of the your team? After you won the series here a few years ago i thought you were going to stay number one for long time, but you lost to us AT HOME instantly and, despite having the best players in the world, its taken you ages to get back on top. Surely now that you are #1 you want to stay there and have fun dominating the cricketing world - don't you? Looking at the Gabba test SA werent rubbish but as the article points out they lacked that killer edge. Then there are the multiple ODI world cup attempts.... Some would say its Graeme Smith's captaincy but it seems to go back further then that. Is it a team culture thing? Anyone....?

Posted by AF2199 on (November 13, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

To be very honest as compared to nineties when we have great bowling attacks (Waqar-Wasim-Saqlain-Shoaib, Mcgrath-Warne-Lee, Walsh-Ambrose, Donald-Pollock) this era do not have genuine wicket taking bowlers, Right now almost all the attacks in the world are just ordinary and flat pitches are not helping as well. I can't see it changing in near future except any country produce few sensational bowlers in next few years.

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