If we’re talking turkey, these guys just voted for Christmas
SA made an unbelievable hash of the Test series against Sri Lanka – and I reckon you can blame complacency
Americans voted for Trump. Brits voted for Brexit. Turkeys vote for Christmas. Sri Lanka won 2-0 in SA in little more than five days of actual playing time. Which of those statements is the least believable?
It gets worse. Not once did Sri Lanka’s modest attack need a second new ball to dismiss the South Africans, who suffered eight ducks – a list that included Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma and Aiden Markram. Only two players, Faf du Plessis and Markram, faced more than 100 balls in an innings.
Difficult, isn’t it, to remember that Quinton de Kock reeled off scores of 80, 55 and 86, that Du Plessis made 90 and 50 not out, and that Markram hit 60.
It cuts no ice that only once did a Sri Lanka innings forge past 80 overs, that they had five ducks – four of them in their top six – or that they had just one century, three half-centuries and a solitary five-wicket haul.
How a team who had won only one of their previous 13 Tests in SA, who arrived in SA having lost 11 of their last dozen matches and drawn the other, who were missing Dinesh Chandimal, who captained them in 17 of their last 23 Tests before this tour, and Angelo Mathews, whose 80 caps were 20 more than the most experienced player in the squad – new captain Dimuth Karunaratne – could be the first from the subcontinent to win a series in SA needs explaining.
Du Plessis tried to do so after the series ended at lunch on the third day at St George’s Park on Saturday.
“Mentally we were just a little bit soft in giving our wickets away,” he told reporters in Port Elizabeth. “Test cricket is about fighting it out and grinding it out. Bowlers have got to earn your wicket. For most of this series all of our batters gave their wickets away pretty easily.”
Elgar’s average of 10.75 was his lowest in any series since he made a pair on debut in the only match he played in Australia in November 2012, and never in a series in which he has had four innings has he scored fewer than the 43 runs he eked out this time. Amla and Bavuma also didn’t muster 50 runs in their four trips to the crease.
None of those players have suddenly become poor. Amla and Bavuma were two of SA’s top three run scorers in the series against Pakistan last month and Elgar, though not at his sturdy best, at least put a 50 into the pot. And SA won 3-0 to earn their seventh consecutive success in a home series. Of their previous 10 rubbers, home and away, SA had won seven.
As Du Plessis said, “[Considering] the cricket we have been playing for the last two, three seasons, if we were anywhere close to that we should have beaten this team.”
So, why didn’t that happen? Because, apparently, inexperience is the new black.
“Sri Lanka had a lot of new faces,” Du Plessis said. “That’s probably something in which we were lacking – normally when you play a team you’ve got quite a bit of footage on them.”
Maybe there wasn’t much of the stuff to go on in a squad that harboured eight players who had fewer than five caps and four who were unblooded. So much so that, it seems, Du Plessis wasn’t aware that left-arm fast bowler Vishwa Fernando, whose haul of 12 wickets was the biggest in the rubber, had played three Tests previously.
“For a guy making his debut in the series to be the leading wicket-taker, that’s not the norm. We didn’t play him well.
“It’s OK if it happens in a once-off innings when you’ve never faced a bowler. But when you’ve played one Test match, you’ve had a look at him, you should be a lot better in the second Test match.”
All of which smacks of complacency, and of the chickens of playing on too many outrageous pitches coming home to roost, and of something being alarmingly amiss with how SA’s batters prepared – and were prepared by Dale Benkenstein – for the series, and of being preoccupied with a looming World Cup.
There’s little Du Plessis and his players can do about the latter. The World Cup is coming, ready or not, and that reality will be über alles until SA win the damn thing.
The rest is on them and the coaching staff. Fix it.