'We need to know what our best team is,' says Smith
In the aftermath of their first-Test defeat against England at Port Elizabeth, South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, has appealed to the United Cricket Board for stability, warning that the side will be unable to progress unless the upheaval surrounding selection issues was brought under control.
South Africa's squad for the second Test at Durban will be announced tomorrow, the first to have been unveiled since the appointment of the new convenor of selectors, Haroon Lorgat, who took over from Omar Henry ahead of the Port Elizabeth Test. Nicky Boje is sure to be back in the squad, and Herschelle Gibbs is also in the selectors' thoughts once again after recovering from injury. However, Smith is adamant that South Africa need to follow England's example, and stabilise the entire structure surrounding the national side.
"We do need to know what our best team is," said Smith. "We're a young side, and we need to stabilise all areas from the selectors down to the coach down to the team. A new convenor of selectors means different issues. A new coach wants different things to happen in the team. We have to start working towards a goal. Every time we start again, it's back to the beginning.
"As a captain you're starting the same processes you started six months ago," he continued, "with new players, a new coach and a new convenor of selectors. At the moment we keep starting a goal, and then we have to start again with the next one two months later. It's crucial that South African cricket stabilises.
"The more you jump around, the worse things become. Everyone's got different beliefs and different thought processes about what needs to happen. Within the team, you've got to identify key positions and key players. If the convenor of selectors changes in four months' time, we're going to have different views again.
"I'm expecting a phone-call today," confirmed Smith, who believed there would be some "good consultation" before the team is unveiled. The return of Gibbs, who tests his fitness in a match for Western Province on Wednesday, will be a key issue, while Jacques Kallis's ankle injury remains a big concern.
"[Jacques] bowled about 15 minutes the other night and he woke up a bit stiff the next morning," said Smith. "The physio is working hard, but that's one we're not sure of. But it will be nice to have Nicky back, and if Herschelle can perform the way he did last year, I think the England team will fear him a bit. He's the type of guy who can turn a Test match on his own and take the game away."
Gibbs would doubtless take over from AB de Villiers at the top of the order, while Zander de Bruyn also seems likely to miss out to allow the talented young batsman Hashim Amla a chance for a home debut in front of his home crowd. "He's a talented boy," said Smith about Amla. "If he gets his opportunity I'm sure he'll do well, as he knows the ground well. But we are inxeperienced, and that's a reality for us. We are a young side and we're developing key areas of our game. We're selecting a squad of 14, so we'll see what the selectors decide."
Looking back on the first Test, Smith awarded his side a mark of "six-and-a-half out of ten, and probably lower" after England wrapped the match up on the fifth morning at Port Elizabeth. Though they battled hard to stay in contention throughout the match, South Africa were eventually outplayed on the decisive fourth afternoon, and slipped to defeat in less than ten overs' play today.
"We've got to learn to play for five days," said Smith. "We're very good at coming back when we get ourselves into hard situations, but it's when we start the Test match on an even keel that we've got to do better. We've got to learn how to dominate those days."
There was a suspicion that England had not played to their full potential in this match, especially Steve Harmison, who managed a solitary wicket, but Smith didn't think they had much more to give. "I think they played pretty well," he said. "We don't expect them to get too much better. Maybe some of their key performers might find a little bit more rhythm, but we expect ourselves to improve a lot."
And he insisted: "Durban offers us an opportunity. We've got a couple of days away, so we have to regroup pretty quickly. We've got to improve on one or two things in our game, especially under pressure. But we know how it feels to be 1-0 up - England came back [to level the series] against us last year. Maybe you relax and take one or two things for granted.
"I think we did well to get ourselves back into contention," added Smith. "The only thing that was a worry was the extras." South Africa conceded a staggering 35 no-balls in the first innings, and the eventual cost to his team was more than 60 runs. "Without those, we could have had a much bigger lead. We've got to be harder on ourselves - in a Test match you can't afford to give any freebies away. And if you give freebies away it ends up biting you hard towards the end of the match."
Smith remained hopeful of a return to winning ways, however, and the expected return of Boje will open up a few options in the bowling department. "It's important to have a spinner, even if the track's not turning. In the first innings he can hold up an end and you can attack from one end, and [Ashley] Giles did play an important role of giving his quicker bowlers rest.
"[England's] whole attack works well together, and that's the key to a team performance. On any given day you're not going to have everyone performing well. One or two guys have to put up their hands and take responsibility. That's how it works. The England team played well, and they're confident now."
Smith concluded: "Durban will be very hot and humid. It is one of our bounciest wickets, and it's got good pace. But I'm more concentrating on where we can improve. In Test-match cricket you can't play for one or two days, or for one or two sessions in a day. That's just not good enough. If you have two good sessions and one bad session you're really behind the eight-ball. So we've got to improve and be hard on ourselves and show a bit more presence."
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.