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December 31, 2009
South Africa's convenor of selectors, Mike Procter, has called on the team to show their "character" after the innings-and-98-run drubbing against England at Durban. They have only two days to prepare for the next Test at Cape Town, a match they must win to retain any chance of claiming a series they were expected to dominate.
Procter admits the nature of the defeat has been hard to take, but while he maintains there is no need for panic measures he did add "at this stage, anyway". That suggests the pressure is squarely on this group of players to turn the series around otherwise places will be on the line.
"They are very down after that beating and they have got to recover and perform better in the next Test," Procter told Cricinfo. "The test of character for a side is how you come back from a defeat like that."
Procter refused to be alarmist despite 2009 bringing just a single Test victory from six matches - and that, too, in a dead rubber against Australia at Newlands - after the side achieved so much in the previous 12 months including the series victory in Australia. Securing that series, with a nine-wicket triumph at the MCG on the penultimate day of 2008, appeared to leave South Africa with the opportunity to dominate the world game.
That hasn't happened and Graeme Smith yesterday said the team "hasn't lived up to the hype." But despite the innings loss at Durban being South Africa's fourth defeat of the year Procter believes the side can turn their fortunes around. "These things happen. It was a pretty convincing victory by England and you have to give credit where it is due, they played exceptionally well," he said.
"They batted very well and bowled superbly to put pressure on our guys. I think there is still that chance [for South Africa] because there are two more games to go. We'll have a much better idea of where we stand after Cape Town. It's going to be a very interesting Test match to see how the guys respond."
The South African selectors named a 14-man squad to cover both the second and third Tests and Procter said there wasn't any need to make additions to the party for Cape Town. "We are only talking about one Test match, the guys played well at Centurion and were one wicket away from a very good victory. One defeat isn't a call for drastic changes."
Although the batting collapsed dramatically for 133 in the second innings - and lost six wickets in 71 deliveries on the fourth afternoon - it is the bowling that is causing most concern after Morne Morkel provided the only genuine threat to the England batsmen. The major question mark hangs over Makhaya Ntini, who went wicketless through 29 overs after claiming just two scalps in the opening Test.
"He's a very effervescent guy and a bubbly character, but when you go through a Test like that I don't think it's that easy to remain bubbly," Procter said. "It's something he'll have to take on the chin and recover from.
"The bowling was a bit disappointing," he added. "It's something we have to work hard to rectify. Dale Steyn came back from an injury and Jacques Kallis was in the same situation, but they will be better for the work and should be in top order by January 3."
Procter also had words of encouragement for Ashwell Prince, who has come under scrutiny following a lean start to the series. Prince has made it clear he would prefer a middle-order slot, but that would require major alterations to the line-up. "Although he hasn't opened the batting too often, when he has done he scored a big hundred in a Supersport game a while back and made that hundred in Cape Town against Australia," Procter said.
"I think when he gets to the subcontinent, if he's still in the team, he'll enjoy opening a lot. He got a pretty nasty ball in the first innings [from Jimmy Anderson], almost unplayable, and that happens. I'm not too worried about him."
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