South Africa in Australia 2012-13

'Our bowlers can get better' - de Villiers

Firdose Moonda in Adelaide

November 18, 2012

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Vernon Philander failed to take a wicket on the opening day of the tour game, Australia A v South Africans, Sydney, 1st day, November 2, 2012
Vernon Philander has not yet taken a wicket on the tour, one of several bowlers who have under-performed for the South Africans © Getty Images
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South Africa's bowlers will have to make strident improvements ahead of the second Test against Australia in Adelaide, according to vice-captain AB de Villiers. The visiting attack, talked about as the best in the world, managed just four wickets to Australia's 14 on an unresponsive pitch in Brisbane and will be under close scrutiny in the second fixture.

"The bowlers can get better and they know they can," de Villiers said. "We had chances [at the Gabba] and we just didn't take them. There were a lot of edges and 50-50 chances didn't go our way."

He also admitted what the bowling coach Allan Donald had suggested during the match - that the usually clinical South African attack became complacent after they made early inroads. "When we had them 40 for 3 I thought there was an opportunity to run through them," de Villiers said. "It is a bit of a worry, but you're not always going to bowl out a team for 150 and 200. Sometimes you have to work hard for that."

While such a statement is hardly revolutionary, South Africa have become used to slicing through their opposition. Since playing Australia in November 2011, they have beaten Sri Lanka at home and New Zealand and England away. The current Australian batting line-up is arguably the best South Africa have faced over the last year.

Against more stubborn batsmen though, a different approach is needed. In his column for ESPNcricinfo, Ian Chappell accused South Africa's bowlers of lacking imagination and waiting for Australia to make mistakes. He argued it was a tactic that was unlikely to work against good sides, like the one led by Michael Clarke.

Ed Cowan and Clarke put on a fourth-wicket stand of 259 runs before Michael Hussey and Clarke combined for 228 runs to give the attack their worst day at the office since Colombo 2006. Then, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were in the midst of compiling their 624-run record partnership.

It did not get that bad in Brisbane but South Africa conceded more than four runs to the over and spent the entire fourth day without any of the bowlers taking a wicket. The only one to fall, Cowan, came through a run-out and de Villiers suggested a hard lesson had been learnt.

"They sent a message that we have to work really hard to take wickets," de Villiers said. "This attack of ours has performed on flat decks before. These are just two really world-class batting line-ups, and the bowlers are going to have to work really hard on what seem to be flat decks to take wickets."

The most recent example of that was at The Oval in July. South Africa took 20 wickets while England managed only two on a similarly batsmen-friendly surface. De Villiers believes that ability to repeat that remains and even peeped out at times in Brisbane.

"We beat the bat a hell of a lot on the evening of the third day and the morning of the fourth," he said. "It looks pretty but it's not effective. For a really good attack to beat the bat that much and not take wickets is disappointing. But what can you do - we're talking about millimetres."

Glaringly absent from the wickets column was Vernon Philander, whose run of 61 wickets in 11 Tests had to reach its end at some point. Philander is wicket-less in Australia so far. He did not claim any in the tour match at the SCG or in the first Test but de Villiers hoped he may just be waiting to pounce when it matters.

"He's not a concern," de Villiers said. "His record speaks for itself. The games he was won for us in the past have been the big games, and we're looking forward to the big game in Adelaide."

Philander is not solely to blame, though. The make-up of the attack also contributed to South Africa's downfall. They went into the match with an all-pace battery of four seamers and were hopeful that JP Duminy's part-time offspin would provide rest for the quicks.

When Duminy was injured after the first day's play, South Africa found themselves without a holding bowler. De Villiers, coach Gary Kirsten and assistant coach Russell Domingo all said they favoured the inclusion of a frontline spinner in a Test XI and de Villiers indicated the team will return to that strategy.

"I wouldn't say we made a mistake [in Brisbane] because I honestly don't think the spinners played a big part," he said. "I thought we made the right decision to play Rory [Kleinveldt]. It will be different here. We know it takes a bit of turn. It's more like the traditional Test wicket where it's a good wicket for a few days, then it starts turning a bit and then probably gets a bit up and down. I'm not going to pick the team now, but I'd say we will definitely go with a spinner."

That will mean changing the XI immediately, something South African sides of old were reluctant to do. They reached No.1 through consistent selection but may need to make adjustments to their XI as they look to stay there. De Villiers said they are willing to be critical of themselves, especially when they have underperformed.

"We weren't that happy with our performance which is always a good sign," he said. "We are the No.1 team in the world, and for the No.1 team to say they can improve is a really good thing."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (November 19, 2012, 14:14 GMT)

Thats great from the gentle man AB.... but what the Proteas need is that they need a spinner... and better if it will be Tahir.... he took some important wickets in England this july.... and the most important thing is AB should give up his gloves to Tsolekile... what AB told was that wicket keeping dint make his batting down... but his recent batting performances dont show that.... his batting has come down than before.... SouthAfricans being No.1 in tests have all the ability to maintain it.... they will surely bounce back in Adelaide.... And it will be better if seamers reduce their no balls in the upcoming matches especially Philander.... Philander might not have taken wickets in the first test but he will surely shine in the next test,he has all the ability.... the best team for the Adelaide test would be Tsolekile in place of Duminy and he has to keep and the next change would be Tahir in place of Kleinveldt .....Good Luck to Smith and his men... Do well boys...... Pure Protean

Posted by   on (November 19, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

The SA bowling attack was poor, bottom line. But let's assess the Test match as a whole: After day 1 the Proteas were sitting pretty with Amla and Kallis at the wicket and the Aussie attack looking very ordinary. JP's injury at the end of day 1 was massive, as it meant the Proteas lost an in-form batsman but also the player who was tasked to perform the "holding role" with the ball. Day 2 was washed out giving the Aussies a more responsive wicket to bowl on day 3 which they duly accepted. On day 4 the Aussies batted really well on a very batsman friendly surface. On day 5 there was only ever going to one result. For years the Proteas have been accused of being too "old school and unwilling to change" but this time around they tried to pick a team based on the conditions at hand and unfortunately it didn't work out (an injury and inclement weather contributing to this). @hhillbumper I'd like you to explain exactly how Philander is "overrated". Looking forward to Test #2

Posted by   on (November 19, 2012, 9:51 GMT)

@SurlyCynic, your argument is flawed. South Africa had far more overs in which to try and dismiss the Australian batsmen than vice versa, yet Australia came within probably a session of bowling SAF out twice. Had it been a green deck or a pitch with a little more for the bowlers, one would assume that Australia would have indeed bowled out South Africa twice, while perhaps having to bat twice themselves.

Posted by Kolpak1989 on (November 19, 2012, 5:37 GMT)

South Africa will have to be alot better than they were in Brisbane if they want to win this series. They got everything wrong there. Selection, batting first, their defensive approach to bowling/fielding. Best things they could do would be to make sure that Kleinveldt never plays another test (how did he even get the call up for the last one?) and to play a specialist keeper to take the pressure off AB's back, let him bat more freely and have him in the field since he is their best (possibly THE best) fielder.

Posted by Marktc on (November 19, 2012, 5:28 GMT)

Wow AB, great insight. Obviously our bowlers can do better...and they need to do better Why even tell us the obvious. South Africa has the firepower, there is no doubt there...and I am sure the second test will see them coming back strong. It is going to be a tough test for both teams...

Posted by savageboy on (November 19, 2012, 5:05 GMT)

The South African attack may not be the best attack of all time, but at the moment who is better than them?

Posted by funkybluesman on (November 19, 2012, 2:17 GMT)

I think the pitch was probably quite good, but often the weather plays a big part in how the pitch finally plays, both the weather in the days leading up to the match and during the match. Losing a whole day to rain wouldn't have helped either.

Getting a good pitch is a careful balance. Test matches are supposed to last 5 days. If a pitch is too in favour of the bowlers and we see four low scores and it's over in 2-3 days, those making money from gate receipts and TV deals aren't going to like it. So they want to make sure pitches are too bowler friendly.

But most Australian pitches these days are pretty good, giving something to the bowlers if they are good enough, but still being nice pitches to bat on. That is a careful balance though, and it doesn't take much to tip it over the edge. A bit of weather and it either becomes extra bowler or batsman friendly.

Last year was an especially wet summer, so many of the pitches were a bit more helpful for the bowlers. It happens.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (November 19, 2012, 0:11 GMT)

We see a lot of comments here about Philander being over-rated. Who is doing this over-rating? Is the entire statistical record of cricket somehow conspiring to over-rate him? Did the ICC's David Kendix assemble his rating procedures because he was waiting for Philander to arrive a decade later and be flattered?

The only rating anomaly I see is the number of people insistent on under-rating Philander, and of course the Aussie flat-deck strategy won't help his ratings, will they!

Posted by HatsforBats on (November 18, 2012, 22:34 GMT)

SA still think it was right to play Kleinveldt? I know it's important to show a united front, but admitting your mistakes isn't a sign of weakness. @SurlyCynic, SA took 4 wickets, Aus took 14. If the 2nd day want washed out there would have been a result.

Posted by Newlandsfaithful on (November 18, 2012, 19:46 GMT)

No need for SA to panic. The last test might have been different if Duminy had been able to bowl. A bit worrying that they seemed to be playiing for a draw early on in the match. Rory was a bit of a gamble and I don't know that he added anything to the attack. He certainly didn't deliver. I think that his selection was a bit of a fail. I still think SA still needs an attacking spinner and at the moment that seems to indicate Tahir. SA certainly doesn't need any selection advice from the likes of Ian Healy or Makaya Ntini. If SA is going to go for a specialist wicketkeeper (why?) it would be advantageous to have one that could contribute with the bat as well - which means Tami - doesn't feature in my books. I keep wondering what terrible thing Morne van Wyk has done to be constantly overlooked for selection. Olld man Niel Mckenzie could replace Rudolf.

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