Little mistakes costing us - Smith
Graeme Smith felt that losing wickets at crucial junctures saw his team 20-30 runs shy of a defendable score
Graeme Smith felt one of the South African batsmen needed to hold the innings together like Mohammad Yousuf did during Pakistan's chase
Spin me once, shame on you. Spin me twice, shame on me. South Africa went through the Test series calmly picking apart the myth that they wilt in the face of spin. On turning wickets, they rarely looked in any kind of trouble. But suddenly, twice in succession, an inability to prosper against spin has cost them matches.
Spin over five days and spin over 50 overs are different prospects entirely. Against Danish Kaneria and Abdur Rehman in the Tests, the objective was to not get out to them, one they achieved so well they eventually scored runs comfortably against them. Against Shahid Afridi and Rehman in the ODIs, where swift runs are a must, South Africa have stuttered.
The pair have seven wickets between them and have gone for under 4.5 an over; in these numbers have the games essentially been lost by South Africa. Pakistan's plan has been simple: prepare a slow pitch and choke the middle overs.
"We have seen the conditions after the first game," said Graeme Smith. "They believe they can beat us on these wickets and their spinners have bowled well. Afridi and Rehman in the middle overs made it difficult for us and that is something we have to look at now and plan against that."
Spin at both ends began from the 30th over onwards, when South Africa were a not unreasonable 111 for 3. But in the subsequent, vital 16 overs, until pace offered relief at one end, they squeezed out only 71 runs and lost four key wickets doing so. Each time, it seemed, they started, they immediately stopped and no real partnerships were forged.
The pitch fooled many. Yesterday the general consensus was that it had runs, and plenty of them, in it. Smith had little hesitation in batting when he won his fourth toss out of five on this tour. But after a confident start, when ball zipped off pitch and bat, matters slowed down.
"Ten overs into the innings we realised the wicket was getting slow and stopping," Smith admitted. "I think both teams struggled to bat on this wicket. Pakistan bowled well up front. Their spinners were very good because they got the ball to turn away. We got ourselves back in game but we lost too many wickets at crucial times. Mohammad Yousuf held their innings together and we needed that."
Indeed he might praise Yousuf's innings for South Africa made every one of those 197 runs count. Smith's assertion that another 20-30 runs to the total would've been very defendable has substance in light of the way they bowled, particularly Albie Morkel. Had one or two throws hit the stumps and one catch been held, even the target they set might have been defended.
There are too many 'ifs' at the moment that we are not controlling. We are making little mistakes that are costing us
"We bowled very well. I just think we needed one or two bigger partnerships in the middle. If we can set 220-250 it will be very difficult to chase on these wickets. We had run-out opportunities and we dropped Misbah-ul-Haq first ball. There are too many 'ifs' at the moment that we are not controlling. We are making little mistakes that are costing us. We need to be little more precise with our chances," said Smith.
All well and good and true, but you also wonder whether sending their star of the Test series, Paul Harris, back before the ODIs was such a clever move after all. He took 12 wickets in the two Tests and as much as his bounce and turn, it was his consistency in hitting the right areas and restricting runs that impressed.
Johan Botha has done well in spurts, but Harris would've offered a different threat. Was Smith just a little rueful when answering the question? "I think Botha has done a good job. It might have been nice to have two spinners but the selectors have given us a team, we have backed it and we have to give the guys their opportunities."
Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo