South Africa in Australia 2012-13 November 14, 2012

Squad rethink required for South Africa

The indifferent performance in the field by South Africa at the Gabba needs to be rectified, and perhaps its time for some radical changes in the team to be made

If you weren't keeping an eye on the Gabba over the past week, you may have thought it was South Africa, not Australia, who were in with a chance of victory, such is the feel coming from their camp. They were, on the first day and in parts of the third, but squandered their chances and had to fight their way to safety.

Yet Graeme Smith does not seem overly concerned with what was his team's flattest performance of the last 12 months. He said there were times when the bowlers did not respond with fury and fire like he had become accustomed to. But he was willing to allow them an off game because "usually they rock up and perform."

What was more telling, though, was South Africa's fielding. Usually among the best in the world, it was at one of its lowest and the "unacceptable" number of no-balls had Smith shaking his head in despair.

Vernon Philander and Rory Kleinveldt were culprits on both accounts. The pair lumbered in the field, were slow to get to the ball on its way to the boundary, and fumbled regularly. They also overstepped 20 times between them, and the only redeeming feature was that unlike Morne Morke, none of their no-balls were wasted opportunities of dismissals.

Philander has yet to take a wicket on the current tour, making it his most lean period since re-entering international cricket last year. On a lifeless pitch in the Sydney warm-up match against Australia A, he was disciplined, and did not see any reward, but in Brisbane, Philander was inconsistent for the first time in his Test career. He lacked control, couldn't find any movement off the seam and his frustration was even more obvious than it was in England.

There, Philander had found many edges which did not carry and he made sure to mention it at every opportunity, even when he took five wickets at Lord's in the final innings. This time he was not even that unlucky. In response, he was often seen attempting to throw the ball at the batsman, and some of his annoyance must have spilled over onto his performance in the field.

But Philander is a proven performer, whom bowling coach Allan Donald calls the "honest businessman" for his uncomplicated approach, and he will be back with a point to prove in the next game. Kleinveldt is unlikely to get the same opportunity.

His debut will be remembered as costly and ineffective although it was not a true indicator of his ability. On the domestic circuit, he is known for his discipline, ability to extract bounce and occasional swing. Although not the most athletically built player, Kleinveldt's commitment may not often be questioned as embarrassingly as it was at the Gabba.

He will make way for the return of Imran Tahir, whom South Africa missed in Brisbane. Although they have other part-time spin options, they will probably want a frontline spinner on a track that is known to deteriorate on the last two days. Tahir's fielding has improved over the years from its status as a source of comic relief but it may not have much of an overall effect on the team.

For that, South Africa will look to someone like Faf du Plessis. The middle-order batsman is likely to replace JP Duminy in the starting XI, and will bring his Rhodes-esque reputation for diving with him. When du Plessis played at Lancashire, the county said he left a lasting legacy of athleticism, and still refer to his run-saving methods with great admiration.

Another obvious way to improve the fielding would be to put one of the world's best fielders on the park. AB de Villiers could be of more use at point or cover than he is behind the stumps and it may even have a positive effect on his batting.

Since taking over the gloves from Mark Boucher, de Villiers has been unable to convert any of the six starts he has made and may bat with more freedom when unburdened. Thami Tsolekile, an able athlete and by some distance South Africa's best wicketkeeper who is also gritty with the bat, is in Australia, and with Jacques Rudolph struggling for form, South Africa could make three changes come the second Test.

But after having attained the world No.1 ranking in England in July by not making a single alteration to their starting XI, this would represent a radical change for South Africa. "Consistency in selection," is something Smith, Gary Kirsten and many of the team, including Alviro Petersen, have talked about as one of their biggest strengths but it is only an advantage when it actually works.

In Brisbane, for the first time since Kirsten became coach, there were signs that some rethink wouldn't be out of place. South Africa have not given themselves much time to do that kind of analytical planning. The squad dispersed yesterday and their coach has gone home - all the way back to Cape Town - to spend three days with his wife and children. The rest are scattered around Australia and training will only resume on Monday.

Down time may seem fair considering the packed schedule for the rest of the summer. South Africa return home to play New Zealand and Pakistan, and will have their next break in March, having already traveled to New Zealand and England this year. Sometimes breaks can be used to fine tune, though South Africa need a healthy amount of polishing before the next Test.

To start with, the bowlers could all do with a refresher course in keeping the foot behind the line. Since the start of the England tour, the attack as a whole has bowled 65 no-balls, with Dale Steyn the only one of the frontline bowlers to not have overstepped once. The rest have been serial offenders and have only themselves to blame for that.

Whether more practice, a stern talking to or time spent concentrating on the small things will change that is something only someone like Donald can answer. But he won't be able to assess that until he sees the squad together again after the weekend and then they will have another Test to prepare for.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paul on November 15, 2012, 3:29 GMT

    Laughable that the author presents as fact - rather than her opinion - Tsolekile as " some distance South Africa's best wicketkeeper..." I like Thami but he's not the answer, now or in the future. He's not the best keeper in the land either, that title going to young Quinton de Kock. And the kid can bat, too!

    Agree, too, that this article is a total overreaction to one insipid performance. Play Imran Tahir in place of spectacularly unimpressive Rory Kleinveldt (he looks unfit and anything but a Test bowler) and Faf for the injured J-P. Rudolph can thank his lucky stars that there's little or no back-up on tour. Had de Kock been in Autralia, I'd free AB of the gloves and bring young Quniton in for Rudolph. I'm sure we'll go a lot better in Adelaide, we'll look back on Brisbane as an abboration - and 10 against 11, our lost player being a bloody big loss, at the Gabba and for the remainer of the series and summer.

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2012, 2:50 GMT

    Thank heavens, A have fans like Staalburger and Robster 1, at least they seem to have the common sense, a lot of ppl are missing. Tsolekile's batting averages is below 30, he bats so low, it gets inflated by not out. Those who want him in, have u seen him bat? He is a walking wicket, his average flatters him. I want to ese Ab's load as well, but with a genuine keeper batsman, Kuhn, Vilas, Van Wyk, De Kock. The knock on Rudolph is that he doesn;t scre enough(and he's hopeless against spin), why then bring in someone who makes even less runs? Defies sense

  • Dale on November 15, 2012, 1:54 GMT

    I think the above article was a bit harsh on Philander, I thought he was fairly tight and could've got a few wickets on another day. Kleinveldt didn't impress me at all, as a Kiwi can I ask you SA out there what has happed to Ashwell Prince I thought he would've been in as the replacement for Duminy. And also what happened to Du Lange (I think that was his name) a young guy who came to NZ last year --- jogs in about 10 paces and bowls at 150km/hr .... as least if they are going to play 4 fast guys, at least get let him loose on Pattinson and Siddle. But in the end they need not only to play Tahir, but they need him to play really well if they are to win in Adelaide.

  • Prashan on November 15, 2012, 1:29 GMT

    I think Du Plessis will be a boost but not sure how good is his batting in tests. Imran Tahir will no doubt love Adelaide cos that is the biggest turner in Australia. Kleinveldt is no good and should be dropped. May be better to play Merchant De Lange rather than Kleinveldt as he should never have been chosen for this series altogether.

  • Cameron on November 15, 2012, 0:22 GMT

    As an Aussie I can say that we are very happy for AB to keep the gloves for the rest of the series as we know what quality he has with both the bat and in the field. he is by far your most dynamic player in a team that at the GABBA at least showed a real lack of energy and intent. For those saying that the Adelaide test is sure to be a draw you should consider that of the last 21 tests at the ground there has only been 3 draws. Like all Aussie pitches it is a result pitch that rewards great cricket. There is always plenty of runs but the pitch wears well and chasing totals on days 4 and 5 can be very challenging.

  • Adrian on November 14, 2012, 22:57 GMT

    If Australia go in with an unchanged 11, which, unfortunately, looks possible, then South Africa will be huge favourites for the 2nd test. Kleinveldt can't be considered and Duminy is injured - but do they also drop Rudolph? I'd love to see Quinton de Kock play - as keeper - with A B back purely as a batsman; but unfortunately he isn't in the squad. Faf surely has to play instead of Duminy but given that de Kock isn't in the squad, I guess another option is to play Robin Petesen and go in with an extra bowler. Adelaide is good for batting so you can play an extra bowler. If South Africa can get their squad right, and Australia mindlessly go in with the same 11, I can be very confident that South Africa will win in Adelaide. You have to remember that South Africa were down to 10 men for the entire match.

  • Pronoy on November 14, 2012, 19:32 GMT

    @Wesley Lazarus : Nobody is blaming Philander. And yes, this attack does not rely on one man, Steyn. In fact, nobody is calling for Steyn's workload to be increased at all. All that is being said is that instead of bowling him in short busts of 3-4 overs, give him fewer, but longer spells. And yes, in England, Smith's strategy worked. But it won't work here, because on these Australian pitches, you need to adopt a strategy that will maximise Steyn's wicket taking ability, since he is most likely to get wickets here. It did not matter in England only because there Philander was not as unlikely to take wickets as he is in Australia. On flat tracks like the gabba, even Steyn won't get the "free" wickets he would get on a greentop, say. But if he is given more time in a spell, he can still be very effective.

  • Gerald on November 14, 2012, 16:04 GMT

    I can't believe so many of you believe that Tsolekile is a serious candidate. He is merely there for the worst case scenario if AB gets injured or his back trouble flares up. His average in FC is 29. Over the last 3 years he has averaged 46 I believe compared to guys like Morne van Wyk (who opens with an average of 36) at provincial level and his average has been bumbed by a number of not outs (26% of his innings because he is batting at 7-8). Bringing him in for AB will be a huge weakening of our batting line up.

  • Rob on November 14, 2012, 15:44 GMT

    An unusually strident article from its author. Certainly for the next test Kleinveldt will be dropped and Tahir back in, but other than that the sole change I can see is Du Plessis for Duminy. But yes, once back in SA I would certainly, and permanently, remove the gloves from AB in tests but Tsolekile is not the answer with both his poor batting and age against him. Far better to look to the next generation of keeper/batsman in Kuhn, Vilas or De Kock.

  • Dummy4 on November 14, 2012, 15:16 GMT

    Now Philander is being blamed for Steyn not ripping up Australia, here is a little newsflash, this attack and even the players themselves have said it is a collective unit that no longer relies on a single bowler to do a job, take the England series, Steyn, Morkel and Philander all took 5 wicket hauls and in ways collectively contributed to the series win, all finished in the top wicket takers column with Philander just filling in behind Broad.

    It was a case of things didn't go right for us for once but we salvaged the game nontheless.

  • No featured comments at the moment.