Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 16, 2014

South Africa attempt to paper cracks

Any changes to the XI for Port Elizabeth are likely to come from within the squad but there are few stand-out replacements

Cullinan: SA's batting looked out of depth

If cricket was a more knee-jerk sport, members of South Africa's Test team may have reason to worry. The cracks are starting to show and some of them could be at risk of falling through.

One Test defeat should not be enough to merit wholesale changes and South Africa are unlikely make them. But it is sufficient for those with alarm bells ringing to stop hitting the snooze button, get up and start performing to allow South Africa to better see how they can move into the post-Jacques Kallis era.

Without him - and it may be enhanced by the Mitchell Johnson effect - the South Africa batting line-up is missing a certain distinction. While Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla's statures are known and celebrated, the top four seems to have shrunk almost overnight in Kallis' absence.

Just consider how Alviro Petersen looked in this last Test. The shot he played to engineer his own demise in the first innings was so unconvincing it prompted a tweet from his namesake Kevin Pietersen about how raw pace can cause a batsmen to do something he otherwise would not. Petersen swished at a ball he should have left, with leaden feet and an unsure mind, to end a nervy 24-minute stint at the crease in which he only managed to score 2.

He lasted even less time in the second dig, nine minutes, and his feet were nothing more than painted on, though it was a better delivery from Johnson. In barely more than half an hour, Johnson had turned Petersen from someone who is usually very sure of himself into someone who is not.

This is not the first time Petersen has seen or faced Johnson. He was up against him in the tour match in 2011, when he had just been dropped from the Test team, on a pitch with more life in it than the rowdy student town that is Potchesfstroom. Despite the variable bounce and Johnson's five-for, Petersen scored a hundred to let the selectors know they had made a mistake by discarding him and when he was recalled, almost a year later, he responded with a century on comeback.

Petersen is mentally tough but his recent run does not show that. He last scored a century 15 innings ago, in January 2013, and since then has an average of 23.92, including a stretch of 10 innings, eight of which were against Pakistan, in which he did not pas 30.

Someone suffering a similar syndrome, although it affects the middle order, is JP Duminy. He has not scored a half-century in seven innings and has not crossed the 30 mark in that time. With increased responsibility on his bowling, in which he takes on the role of a second spinner and sometimes out-bowls the specialist, the focus seems to have fallen off his batting and his talent, as witnessed in the Melbourne Test six years ago, seems to be getting wasted.

There is an option if South Africa want to replace either Petersen or Duminy. Dean Elgar is the extra batsman in the squad and could bat either at the top - where he is comfortable - or the middle, where he has played the majority of his seven Tests. Elgar has the numbers to justify a chance, with a first-class average of 44.14 and 19 hundreds to his name, but it will depend on whether team management think he has the ability to deal with the pressure. Judging by the dropped catch in Centurion, when he was on as a substitute fielder, maybe not.

The same factor will probably continue to leave Quinton de Kock, who despite his first-class average of 48.87 has only played two matches this summer and scored 11 runs, and Stiaan van Zyl, who led the first-class competition run charts until this weekend, out of contention. As Russell Domingo, South Africa's coach, has made clear, a series against Australia, particularly an Australia on the up, is not the time to blood a youngster.

That reason will also mean Simon Harmer, the spinner considered next in line for the role, will have to wait his turn. Robin Peterson is South Africa's third major worry as he continues to struggle to hold up his end but the only other place they can go is Imran Tahir. The legspinner took seven wickets for the Lions in the weekend's domestic match but whether he has gotten over 0 for 260 and whether South Africa want an attacking tweaker are matters that will need to be considered.

Because South Africa picked a squad of 15 at the beginning of this series, they are unlikely to look for answers outside it. If any changes happen, they will probably come from within the group and in the allrounder department. Although Ryan McLaren did what was expected of him, he did not do anything special and South Africa have seen that it will take something extraordinary to beat Australia.

That could open the door for Wayne Parnell, who has been reaching speeds of 150kph this summer and could be their x-factor. His inconsistency has led to him being expensive, though, which will have to be weighed up against the pace he has. Rory Kleinveldt is the other alternative. Although he is not as quick as Parnell, he gets good bounce and he is capable with the bat. It still leaves them with the problem of too many No.8s but Vernon Philander looks ready to move up a spot.

South Africa's knees do not need jerking just yet. They have all the tools they need to come up with an XI that can seal the cracks and continue building their side. But they need to use them cleverly to ensure their Polyfilla is foolproof.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Keegan on February 19, 2014, 13:17 GMT

    I think a different proteas team will take the field tommorow. The reason we are the number 1 test team in the world is our ability to bounce back and show character (sadly something we lacked in the last test). Parnell will be a good inclusion for mclaren, and duminy has been riding a wave of poor to mediocre peformances for way too long, is he in the team as a spinner these days or is he a batsman? either way he seems out of his depth. Remove duminy and send him back to the cobras to get some much needed practice, put de kok in and let ab give the wickey keeping a break for a while. Johnson bowled fantastically well, but was more aided by poor batting. If the south africans get hold of him i feel he wont have the skills like Steyn to bounce back. Tommorow we will set the record straight and show Aus why we are number 1 and their crowing can stop

  • Ann-Maree on February 19, 2014, 8:25 GMT

    I think where MJ works - and this is not just in the way he is managed by Clarke and Lehmann (spells of non than 5 overs and carefully spread) - but in the way Craig McDermott has him bowling. McDermott (some may not know) was picked as a teenager to play Test cricket for Australia - and did so with distinction, taking 291 wickets in 71 tests @ around 28.6 - and started playing in '84 - middle of the West Indies heyday. He has been there, done that at the highest level, and the current crop probably grew up watching him play. As a consequence they LISTEN to him, and he has MJ and the rest of the fast bowling posse pitching up - so they are getting many more bowled, LBW and caught behind the wicket (WK, slips) that you think. Soften them up with short stuff and then take out their off stump with a beauty (this Cook in Adelaide, Perth)

  • glenn on February 19, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    Greatest_Game on (February 17, 2014, 21:33 GMT)

    An amazing result for sure (where the hell do they practice?). Unfortunately the Afghanis got spanked by the Bangladeshis by 10 wickets. If the Australians beat Bangladesh today then Afghanistan is unlikely to go through to the next round.

  • Dummy4 on February 18, 2014, 17:44 GMT

    Dale Steyn is the best paceman in the hot set of fast bowlers that Australia and South Africa have showcased in this summer. Speed alone is not the key. Shaun Tait is a bowler who generally bowls faster than Mitchell Johnson and is more accurate than him when he is in full swing. But that purple patch stays for too short a while for Mr. Tait as his consistency always betrays him; simply out of nowhere! In the post-Kallis era, Quinton de Kock might be that x-factor to let the progress of the African Cricket assimilate and accelerate. Graeme Smith, at his best, is a genetically modified Sourav Ganguly to a certain extent. All this build up will eventually culminate into some sort of classic; the fans will take nothing out of the game!

  • Asad on February 18, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    The English were making the right (brave) we-shall-overcome noises after every loss/test -- the end result was still the same -- and finally a 5-0 whitewash. History repeating itself in SA vs Aus

  • Kevin on February 18, 2014, 7:14 GMT

    @ Greatest_Game & SA SCOT In regards to whether Tahir should be picked for the 2nd test.

    After thinking about both your comments and understanding your point of view one thing still bothers me - Smiths' captaincy to spinners.

    Over the years Smith has seemed a captain that has little faith in spinners. He often waits too long to bring them on and gives them poor fields.

    Because of the poor fields they leak runs so he takes them off and you can almost see him thinking to himself - "I knew I shouldn't have bowled him"

    Leg spinners need a captain with the courage to set attacking fields whilst offering a smidgeon of protection.

    If the leggie gets hit over the top early on the captain needs the leggie to keep asking the batsman to keep trying that. Dropping mid on or mid off back to provide an easy single isn't going to cut the mustard nor give the leggie confidence.

    Warne always said he didn't mind getting hit for 6 or 4 for the greater good. Smith can't seem to understand that.

  • Kevin on February 18, 2014, 7:02 GMT


    Thanks for your response regarding my quota system question.

    The first thing that came to mind when reading your response was "Ah, I see!" - said the blind man.

    Believe it or not, as muddled as the topic is, I understand it a lot more since your reply.

    I had wondered if players were told they were quota players and if that effected their self esteem once they found out.

    My own personal view is that CSA selectors would pick the best possible man/men for the job. It is not in their best interests to discriminate as they are in the business of selecting sides that win. If sides they select don't win they would, normally, lose their jobs.

    Someone like Tahir being selected makes it look to me there is no discrimination.

    Having said that, I am in no real position to comment as I have never been to SA. All I can say is what I see from an outsiders point of view.

  • rob on February 18, 2014, 1:27 GMT

    @ Aussasinator: said "target the bodies of the warners and Clarkes, whom we all know cannot play bouncy quick bowling." .. sorry mate, but not everyone knows that. I certainly didn't and I don't think Warner or Clarke do either. .. I've seen statements like that before but I'm not sure where the theory came from. Both have been out to short balls in their careers, that's true, but then again what player hasn't? .. Getting out now and then to a certain delivery doesn't necessarily mean it's a weakness, especially if they score heaps of runs off that delivery in between dismissals. .. Broad recently tried bouncing Clarke out. Got smacked to the fence a few times and gave up within two overs .. Anyway, by all means, just run up and bang it in. Maybe the crowds will be in better catching form than the SA team.

  • David on February 17, 2014, 21:33 GMT

    Eureka! I have seen the future, and it is not Mitchell Johnson. It is not Quinton de Kock. It is not Mitchell Marsh, or any Marsh. It is nor Beuran Hendricks!

    Well then, what is it?

    In the U19 World Cup, the Afghanistan Under19 team BEAT the Australian U19 team by 36 runs. Forget about the SA cupboard. Forget about the Aussie cupboard. What the heck are they putting in the Afghan cupboard?

    And mark these words: some (not me, but someone else certainly will so please don't blame me for pointing this out, I'm simply the bearer of the message) will soon ask how quickly an ECB talent scouting team will be wining & dining the Afghan youngsters? After all, the British did invade Afghanistan, so somebody's grandparent somewhere … they will say.

    In addition, SA's seniors may well be wilting, but we are unbeaten in the U19 World Cup! We do have something to look forward to! (Yes yes, that is a cue for someone to haul out the C word. I'm just making it easy for the random troll.)

  • David on February 17, 2014, 20:59 GMT

    @ commented about SA's "quota", "In response to the "elephant in the room" I would apologise to all SA supporters if my questions are out of order. I wasn't aware that it was a delicate subject, if it is. I had assumed that CSA had a policy that was set in stone and was to be adhered to by the selectors..."

    Matt - no apologies needed. You said nothing out of order. The subject should be clear and in the open, & there is nothing delicate about it at all. There was a quota, but it did not work, notably after a player was dropped & another included to keep the quota, & the quota player found out that he was a quota player & refused to tour! The quota had backfired big time & it was all changed, & there is now supposedly no quota, but there is a sort of quota only to keep happy those who would exploit cricket for political gain.

    If that does not make sense, welcome to SA cricket, where all players truly, out of pride, want to be picked on merit, but the politicians don't care ...