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The win against Pakistan will do wonders for South Africa's confidence
October 15, 2007
South Africa will take an enormous amount from this series victory against Pakistan. In all honesty they were not expected to win, but in the end did so rather convincingly and with not too much trouble. It has come at a good time for coach Mickey Arthur and captain Graeme Smith. They desperately needed some success after a disappointing World Cup in the Caribbean and World Twenty20 in South Africa.
I am surprised that Smith even remotely gave Pakistani chance of winning the second Test match and squaring the series. It all ended well for him eventually, but I'm sure there was a moment on the last day of the second Test when he must have had second thoughts about his declaration. He was probably safe in the knowledge that he could control the pace of the match. The Pakistan side which took the field in the two Tests was one of the weakest of recent times, but having said that, South Africa played better Test cricket. Their basics were far superior to Pakistan's. South Africa's discipline and patience were the difference between the two sides.
Pakistan also took one thing for granted - and many teams have been doing so for too long now - that South African batsmen are suspect against spin. The Pakistan coach, Geoff Lawson, showed his lack of international experience and knowledge of South African cricket in this regard by going in with only two recognized pace bowlers in the second Test.
The spin duo of Danish Kaneria and Abdur Rehman proved to be no threat. Though supported by a hardworking pace attack, the Pakistan spinners were unable to even tie up an end and create some pressure. Kaneria was particularly disappointing and one got the impression that the South African batsmen were pretty settled against him. In contrast, the South African left-arm spinner, Paul Harris, proved to be highly economical and accurate and kept the pressure up throughout the series, allowing Graeme Smith to attack with three quick bowlers from the other end.
Harris has had a dream start to his Test match career on responsive wickets home and away; bigger Tests will come for him, on less favourable wickets, but for now he certainly is giving his captain more options. Once a flat-footed roundarm roller, by playing cricket all year round he has improved his accuracy tremendously. Not a great spinner of the ball, he offers more by way of drift, bounce and subtle variations of pace. If he continues in this fashion, it will certainly see Shaun Pollock play less Test match cricket, and possibly even the end of his career.
Pakistan also took one thing for granted - and many teams have been doing so for too long now - that South African batsmen are suspect against spin
Dale Steyn provided the new-ball attack with some much-needed pace, and his match-winning performance in the first Test match should ensure that he is an automatic Test selection, alongside Andre Nel. And room has to be made for the young Morne Morkel. The man under pressure at the moment, whose place has always been taken for granted, is Makhaya Ntini.
Ntini's great strength has been his ability to run in all day, on all surfaces, with pace and aggression. This has allowed him, even in subcontinental conditions, to be effective. However with his marked lack of pace in recent times, he has nothing to fall back on. He does not offer any swing, subtle variations, or the ability to bowl wicket to wicket. In this regard his bowling has never grown. It is not that he hasn't thought about it, but more for the reason that he feels it has never been necessary. It may be that age or lack of fitness is catching up - at any rate Ntini is not the bowler that he was 18 months ago. He has no option but to keep up the pace and intensity but he's growing older and in time will increasingly need to deal with niggling injuries. His lack of form will have to be addressed, for he has been South Africa's best strike bowler in recent times.
South Africa will be hugely thankful for the performances of Jacques Kallis. Without his telling first-innings contributions, both Test matches would have been much closer affairs. I do not believe it was the rest from the game that gave Kallis the extra motivation but rather their inexplicable reasons for his omission from the World Twenty20 squad. He certainly let his bat do the talking here, and those that left him out were left hugely embarrassed.
Over the next 18 months, bigger Test match cricket challenges lie ahead for South Africa but this series win will do their confidence a world of good. And rightly so, for they fully deserve it.
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