SA v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 1st day March 1, 2014

South Africa left feeling exposed minus Steyn

South Africa are still looking for someone to bowl the overs Jacques Kallis used to so well for them, and the intermittent absence of Dale Steyn of late has only amplified that issue
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The first law of cricket stipulates that it is an 11-a-side sport, so you'd forgive Graeme Smith for wondering why he has had to play this series with just 10. For the third time in the three-match rubber, South Africa are a man down, and for the second time it has been one of their most important men: Dale Steyn.

As South Africa saw when Steyn was off the field for significant periods of the first Test with an upset stomach, and as they have seen when he has been off the boil in the past, their attack without him is what the backdrop to Newlands would look like without Table Mountain. It lacks it's most striking feature, which only serves to heighten the pressure on the rest of the pack.

Morne Morkel has started to show he is capable of responding to that. He did it in Port Elizabeth, when he bowled the spell that Steyn said inspired the second-innings collapse and he almost did it here. After Steyn had left the field, Morkel set to work on Michael Clarke. But his encounter with the Australian captain resulted in bruises, not breakthroughs. More importantly, he lacked back-up.

On a belter of a pitch perhaps no-one could expect a different outcome from the first day, but that doesn't mean an examination of the efforts isn't warranted. In particular, an examination of the fringe elements of the attack has to take place, because it is in the area of the fourth seamer and the spin department that South Africa have lacked in this series.

In the three matches, they've tried three different people to bowl what used to be called the Jacques Kallis overs. They're a balance between overs which keep the run-rate under control while allowing the three front-liners a breather and overs which are sent down when none of them can break through. Ryan McLaren looks the likeliest to fill that role, but he has not been given an extended opportunity.

After concussion kept him out of the second Test, he may have fancied himself for a recall with Wayne Parnell being injured for this one, but South Africa decided to play what some would consider a stronger hand. Kyle Abbott is a swing bowler who has had success on the domestic circuit over the last two seasons. One of the problems was that, particularly in the morning session, there was not much swing to be found.

Similarly, there wasn't much in the way of seam movement and that frustrated Philander, who found himself under attack on his own turf. David Warner has already made known how little he thinks of Vernon Philander. He questioned the man Steyn calls the King of Newlands' ability to bowl on pitches were there is little assistance after Philander pulled out of the Adelaide Test in November 2012 with a bad back and was bowling in the nets a couple of days later. Warner showed his disdain for him again today.

While Philander was guilty of bowling too full, Warner went after him before any of the South Africans could get around to telling the opening what they thought of his accusation about their swing tactics in Port Elizabeth. The start Warner got off to is typical of his aggressive style of play, and it's impact was obvious.

Smith had to bring on spin, in the form of JP Duminy, who Shane Warne reminded the press is only a "part-time spinner", in the 10th over. It wasn't long after that that he had to spread the field and defend rather than concentrate on taking wickets. For the second half of Warner's century, he was scoring at almost a run a ball in singles because of the space he was afforded.

Donald said it became like bowling to Brian Lara because the South Africans knew any slight error in line or length would be punished and even the acceptable deliveries would be milked. They were soon on the receiving end of both. Their lengths remained too full, except for Morkel who did not offer a single pitched up ball in the spell he bowled to Clarke. Their two spinners were unable to contain and, perhaps as a result, unable to force an error.

Between them, Duminy and Elgar conceded exactly 100 runs in the 24 overs they bowled. They allowed Australia to proceed at a comfortable rate of over four runs to the over and did not threaten a touch, apart from one ball when Elgar should have had Clarke caught at slip. They showed that South Africa probably need to rethink whether they will use a specialist spinner in future. Even though the pickings are slim, someone like Simon Harmer should be kept in mind because it seems South Africa cannot go without for too much longer.

For now, their concern is responding immediately and Donald knows that can only be done with a change in mindset. "We have to come out with a brand new attitude tomorrow," he said. "We have to have a lot of attitude and discipline and skill."

If they don't, they will end up with more days like today and more reasons to question why they haven't started planning for life without Steyn sooner. This is not a suggestion Steyn, who admitted to only having "three or four Newlands Tests left", is close to the end. It is a reminder that all things end at some stage and that Steyn has not had an easy last few months. He picked up a rib injury during the India series earlier in the summer and had to take an extended break to facilitate a full recovery. He did not feature in the domestic 20-overs competition as a result.

He started this series unwell in Centurion and looks likely to end it injured in Cape Town. Sandwiched between that he produced one of it's most memorable spells in Port Elizabeth. What South Africa have to learn from all of that is they cannot continue to rely so heavily on one man alone because when they do, the biggest disservice they do is to themselves.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on March 3, 2014, 5:46 GMT

    For once I agree with Firdoose - we have fielded 10 players in every game and we are exposed with dalo -- and Firdoose thanks for you and Telford joining us on the Waving The Flag Floral shirt grass embankment!!! yesterday..

  • stormy16 on March 2, 2014, 16:32 GMT

    Obviously any team would struggle at the loss of the number 1 bowler in the world but I really expected more from SA. Yes Morkel was great bouncing Clark but at the end of the day it got SA no where with Aus in a totally dominant position.I thought the most effective bowler was Elga and Duminy and amoungst seamers, Abbot looked most likely to get a wicket. Morket and Vern were dissappointing for me and understand the conditions were tought but with the series on the line, they hardly made an impact.

  • John-Orford on March 2, 2014, 14:45 GMT

    Morkel's over-usage of the short ball is reminiscent of Broad a few years ago. He bowled too short for whole overs at a time and so got hammered . Strauss just stood there and said nothing. Did Smith not make any suggestions to him? What are captains for? And Donald? His little finger has forgotten more about bowling than I shall ever know. Has he suggested anything to Morkel or is it being forgotten? You've got a fine bowler there, but he needs advice.

  • espncricinfomobile on March 2, 2014, 10:07 GMT

    Brilliant cricket watching Clarke face Morkel. He roughed it out and it's now set for a big hundred. He's making "ugly" runs which is good to see. Steyn may be out, but SA still have three frontline pacers so don't make too many excuses yet.

  • dummy4fb on March 2, 2014, 6:53 GMT

    A riverting article this. Well written Firdose, hoping SA gets on top of the situation today.

  • SLSup on March 2, 2014, 6:43 GMT

    ...reacting to BradmanBestEver: Dude. The only obvious comment you made is perhaps your username! When you say SA batting line up is only MARGINALLY better than others it should be backed up with stats. Also, you don't need a spinner as long as you have bowlers with a decent strike-rate at a reasonable average to dismiss an opposition soon enough to turn out a win. SA has done so more often than others in the recent past to pose an imposing lead at the rankings to the 2nd best. And NO TEAM relies on any one bowler through all teams have at least one strike bowler (who doesn't take all 20 wickets)!

    AND, did you really say "...it is interesting that opposing teams have not..." exploited SA's weaknesses? : ) Laughable. But you made my day indoors. Outside it's pouring rain!

  • dummy4fb on March 2, 2014, 6:41 GMT

    I heard Steyn did not bowl at all since the PE Test. Did that contribute to his hamstring trouble? South Africa should clearly look at how they approach a very important test match with their best fast bowler. If Steyn had had a few bowls before the test, maybe he would have been more effective in the opportunity that he got on the first day morning. Having said that, Australia are in the driving seat and the variable bounce augurs well for Johnson and Lyon.

  • Protears on March 2, 2014, 6:40 GMT

    I like the idea of grooming players with the upcoming West Indies tour here after the WC. I would rest AB and Steyn, send Morkel to play and learn skills on the County circuit or in Australia as to me Morkel can bowl well and not take wickets, a lot is down to his nature of bowling. Groom, Elgar, De Kock, Van Zyl, De Lange, Harmer, Abbott etc. We cannot fall into the trap that Australia, India and England did by not planning to improve the squads weaknesses or having greats retire at once.

  • cheguramana on March 2, 2014, 6:22 GMT

    Surprised at how docile the track seems to be. Maybe fear of MJ induced such a pitch ? If so, the deciding factor may be who will bat better. SA batting is by no means weak. But al ready it looks like this May be a hard fought draw. For a top ranked Test nation, it has produced hardly any spinner worth the name....surely it el be difficult to sustain dominance with such a mix ?

  • Blackholesun on March 2, 2014, 6:20 GMT

    With Styen Gun Jammed Advantage Australia ! Warner, Clarke and Smith have put Australia on Top. Unless SA bat's well in their first innings, they are going down the well. The pressure is on SA clearly.

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