England in South Africa 2015-16 January 19, 2016

Dippenaar calls for psychological strength


"When Stiaan van Zyl goes out to bat, he is thinking about what he has done wrong in the past and what can go wrong again" - Boeta Dippenaar © AFP

The 20-odd steps from the Wanderers dressing room to the field is not the longest walk in world cricket but it may be the loneliest. The journey is hidden from prying eyes by a tunnel but you can still hear everything. On a crowded day, that noise is amplified by the banging of hands against the sides of the structure; on a quiet day, the only sound is silence.

When a side is fielding, they make that walk as a team. When they are batting, they make that walk alone. And as Saturday afternoon grew long, it would have become gruelling for South Africa. They lurched from 23 for 1 to 31 for 4 to 67 for 8 and eventually 83 all out; the anger and irritation at their inadequacy grew louder; the hope disappeared.

Suffering from their own self-doubt after several innings of underperformance, South Africa seemed set for an implosion and Stuart Broad's sensational spell sped that up. They were as stunned by him as they were by themselves and showed signs that frailties have now been firmly lodged in the mind.

"Batting is an incredible psychological challenge because one mistake can lead to the end of an innings," Boeta Dippenaar, the former South Africa batsman, told ESPNcricinfo. "Those who are most successful can block out the noise and only worry about the next ball."

While bowlers have multiple chances in the course of a match to make a breakthrough, batsmen are at risk of failing every ball; and the more a batsmen has failed, the more likely he is to fail again. "Someone like Stiaan van Zyl - when he goes out to bat he is thinking about what he has done wrong in the past and what can go wrong again. But someone like Jacques Kallis or AB de Villiers - they don't think of anything too much and just let natural ability take over," Dippenaar said. "They call it being in the zone, when you actually can't tell anybody afterwards what you were thinking, you were just thinking about the next ball."

How easy is it to get in the zone when struggling for form? "Almost impossible," Dippenaar said. "When you are confident you feel like you can walk on water. When you are low on confidence, you feel useless. That's where the challenge comes in. When you are low on confidence, you have to be able to bulls**t yourself into believing good form is an innings away. Players who succeed can handle that well."

Dippenaar admits if he had cracked this balancing act earlier, he may have had more to boast about than 38 Tests and three hundreds. "If I had known all of this when I started playing, then I would have had a longer career," he joked. Instead, he is better remembered for his patches of poor form which included a period of 17 innings with only one half-century and seven single-digit scores early in his international career and one half-century in nine innings at the end. These days, better known for his astute analysis as a commentator.

His advice to South Africa's ailing batsmen is to band together and not allow the outside influences to invade their space. "International cricket can be lonely. When you're doing well, there is a natural affection for you from the fans and the media but when you're doing badly that's gone," Dippenaar said. "Then it's up to your team-mates to support you and it's also up to you to realise you have a responsibility to the team."

With no Test wins in the last 12 months since their victory over West Indies in January 2015 and a winless streak that has extended to nine matches, South Africa have a responsibility that extends further than their own dressing room. They have to answer to the thousands who support them, thousands who were left as shellshocked as they were by Saturday's events.

By tea-time, some started leaving the Wanderers, unwilling to watch a defeat inside three days. On social media, those who bought tickets for Sunday expressed their unhappiness. "Stop making TV ads and start winning matches," said one fan referring to the Protea Fire campaign which aims to let outsiders in on matters such as team spirit. Those flames seem to have been put out and if South African cricket wants to stoke them again, they need to give their supporters a reason to believe that they believe in themselves.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Ghalib Imtiyaz on January 21, 2016, 0:55 GMT

    South Africa's batting woes begin with the failure of their opening partnership and Amla is batting way too early. They need a confident strokemaker like De Kock. They could have beaten India easily if De Kock was playing. Wrong selection has weakened batting considerably and England is playing far better cricket than the recently concluded Ashes series making them the best team right now. India is vastly overrated and their defeat vs Aus in the 4th ODI shows that. India needs to unearth good bowlers else their batting wont rescue them vs Australia or England or South Africa. South Africa lacked any serious cricket before the Indian tour and it showed. They can bounce back again but to stop England from being no. 1, they must have 4 in form batsmen and right now they dont even have 2. England bats way too deep with Moeen Ali coming at number 8 and they have at least 4 doing well out of 8 options. That will make them the best batting unit.

  • Siddharth on January 20, 2016, 17:26 GMT

    This is the real SA. Overrated. Thrashed by India on turning tracks and humiliated by Eng on true bouncy tracks...

  • Mashuq on January 20, 2016, 15:58 GMT

    Funny how even you trot out the hoary quota rubbish when assessing the failure of the Proteas, @Captainhansie on January 19, 2016, 19:11 GMT. If you recall there were only 3 of the non-pale members in the Wanderers XI (Amla, Bavuma, Rabada). I suppose in earlier games, Harmer for Piedt or Rossouw for Bavuma would have lead to a different outcome. It's the absence of an all-rounder/good fifth bowler that's hurting the team and no amount of hiding behind unimaginative selection approaches can disguise that fact. Having said that, I find the nanny-like overseeing aspect of the selectorial process in managing the current crop of aspirants irksome. Now that the horse has well and truly bolted they need to be creative instead of relying on the likes of Duminy or van Zyl to function within the requisite conditions (the latter seen as a fourth seamer [lol]).

  • Jason on January 20, 2016, 11:45 GMT

    To those saying Morkel is weak, the problem is that a lot rests on his shoulders, without Steyn in the attack as they were natural foils and hinted well together.

    With 2-3 inexperienced bowlers theres too much on his shoulders as hes seen as the one who should be stepping up, so hes trying too hard. We saw the same with Botham in 1981, when the captaincy was removed he was a different player.

    In India they were brought down to earth on pitches specifically created to nullify SA pace and enhance Indian spin. But that tour took its strain on the team and squad and it takes time to get the teams confidence back, even more if you draft in new players as they take time to adjust.

  • R on January 20, 2016, 3:40 GMT

    Yes, team spirit is of more consequence than individual ability.. That's why Eng got rid of kp and why they went on to beat the aussie and easily win the ashes last summer with a game to spare.. Aussie were puffed up and had better individuals on paper & in the rankings but were beaten by Eng spirit... G smith said the same as s smith as Eng arrived... And RSA have been comprehensively beaten with a game to spare by Eng team spirit.

  • Cricinfouser on January 20, 2016, 1:23 GMT

    When philander and styn are fit its time to pair them up with Rabada and a young spinner. Morkel has had his chance and I think is past his best in test cricket while the sky is the limit for Rabada. Morkel still has a lot to offer SA in limited overs game though.

  • Cricinfouser on January 20, 2016, 0:14 GMT

    Batting seems to be the problem but no one is talking about the lack of a batting coach... Isn't it sensible to also have a look at the head coach? He inherited a team that was full of experience and great players but since those retirements he has failed to even make the senior players play to their potential... England brought in Bayliss and all can see that the team is very different... India brought in Shastri on some role and their fortunes have changed... Can south Africa emulate the above? For a coach to go 12 months without a win and no one is talking about his coaching credentials is indeed incredible.

  • Marius on January 19, 2016, 19:11 GMT

    @Beertjie Nonsense. There are plenty very talented youngsters in our system. Unfortunately some of them are very pale, but that's a story for another time. Reality is that the selectors haven't built this team up with understudies. It's adding one at a time. We went into this series with a squad of 13 with no keeper other than AB.

  • Sathesh Krishnan on January 19, 2016, 17:36 GMT

    The problem with SA is not the talent but management. The selectors and coach need to select the team on certain guidelines and cannot operate beyond that. Though they have abundant talent in domestic level, its hard for them to choose right eleven bcos they need to adhere to quota system. This makes them take the field with sub standard team and not the one with full potential. Until this changes and everyone is selected on merit SA can never dominate world arena. With more and more strict transformation policies, SA will go downhill than ever.

  • amakan on January 19, 2016, 16:01 GMT

    Don't quite agree with the title so I did not read the whole. My argument is SA aren't that weak (maybe short in confidence) but England are too much stronger an opponent for this team as they are exuberating talent, stamina and confidence on field. But Alas knowing England for three decades I cant see them last long going at this pace.

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