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Comment

South Africa's bowling could fetch better results with more inspired captaincy

Their batting is sorely lacking, but their strong suit, bowling, has not looked as good as it might have

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
01-Jan-2023
Anrich Nortje is a better bet than Lungi Ngidi to be opening the bowling with Kagiso Rabada and taking wickets with the new ball  •  Getty Images

Anrich Nortje is a better bet than Lungi Ngidi to be opening the bowling with Kagiso Rabada and taking wickets with the new ball  •  Getty Images

South Africa are a flawed batting team and recent comments by captain Dean Elgar regarding a dangerous Gabba pitch and lack of matches against tough opponents have tried to camouflage that.
No team - no matter how good their bowling attack - can overcome a string of mediocre Test totals poorly compiled. No number of games against tough opponents is going to help a batting team that is technically deficient and limited in their shot-making ability.
Also, while South Africa's bowling attack possesses real ability, their wicket-taking capability could be drastically improved. And they are handicapped by their side's poor batting. A team that is repeatedly provided with low scores and has to regularly be back bowling after yet another failure by their batting side finds its strength sapping and morale dropping.
There is also the matter of captaincy. Anrich Nortje aside, the rest of the attack could have performed better in Australia with improved leadership. Elgar, like many of his fellow international leaders, is not well versed in captaincy on Australian pitches. The bowlers must first understand that producing the odd really good ball interspersed with some deliveries that can be despatched won't win much in Australia. Bowlers have to keep producing good deliveries to talented batters and their demeanour has to alert opponents to their wicket-taking desire.
I've often said about the great Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee that you had to overcome his great ability first and then you had to deal with his iron will. That is how good bowlers operate. There have been times when I have felt the South Africans lacked that required iron will.
It's also worth remembering the practical words of talented Australian batter Mark Waugh: "Hit the top of off with the occasional bouncer used to work." That age-old cricket proverb still applies.
Then there are field placings for the current bowlers when considering the improvement and extra thickness of bats. It always pays to start with a packed slip cordon, as edges off the new ball continue to be a high-percentage way to rid yourself of good top-order batters. And when those players survive the early period and start to punish the bowling, a captain has to be agile in his thinking. Sending slip fielders to places like point and square leg is more likely to result in catches than giving good batters easy singles by moving men prematurely into the deep. There comes a time when a batter is well set and deep fielders have to be considered but the fielding team is already in trouble by the time that happens.
If the captaincy relates to the cricket being played, it's generally good. If, however, it doesn't relate to the actual play, you're right to assume it's poor.
On the subject of starting, why isn't Nortje taking the new ball along with Kagiso Rabada? The best chance of taking wickets is at the start of a player's innings. The most likely wicket-takers, if they are good, are the faster bowlers and it's imperative they get the new ball. Nortje is a far better bowling proposition than an out-of-form and much slower Lungi Ngidi.
Keshav Maharaj has potential as a spinner but if he's used as a containing bowler, that's a mistake. Most of the time a captain has to seek wickets at both ends. Bowlers are wicket-takers; otherwise they shouldn't be in a Test side. Having a player operate as a holding bowler means his ability is diminished.
Taking 20 wickets to win a Test is the hardest thing in the game but it's also among the most rewarding. The job of batters is to score runs quickly enough to allow their bowlers the time to collect those 20 wickets.
The South African batters aren't anywhere near doing their job. However, the better South African bowlers could improve their performance if they were provided with more inspiring leadership and competitive field placings.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist