South African sporting teams have become accustomed to walking into the arrivals area at OR Tambo International with a crowd of supporters singing and dancing. That’s not going to happen for Faf du Plessis’ Proteas, writes GARY LEMKE.
An uncomfortable couple of months in England, which started with so much hope – as is the norm – ended with another thumping Test defeat, which meant the series was lost 3-1.
This comes after England won the T20 and the ODI series between the two countries and the Proteas limped out of the Champions Trophy prematurely when many expected them to break their ICC trophy hoodoo.
The four-match Test series was a chance to show that this Proteas side was made of sterner stuff. But, as much as the official Cricket SA press release argued that the side was not at full-strength in any of the four Tests, they were bullied by an England team which themselves had lost six of their previous eight Tests heading into this series.
Three of the four Tests were over inside four days, highlighting how fast the games moved forward, even when the weather interrupted play. And all four Tests were won by the side winning the toss and deciding to bat first.
Yet, both top orders proved fragile in testing early conditions against the new ball. That new ball rudely exposed England’s Keaton Jennings and Gary Ballance, while on the South African side both Heino Kuhn, throughout, and Theunis de Bruyn in the fourth Test, of whom so much has been expected, were made to look ordinary at Test level. How can either expect another chance?
England won the first Test by 211 runs, South Africa the second by 340 in a remarkable turnaround, before normal service was resumed as the hosts closed out the series by 239 runs and 177 runs, respectively.
Admittedly, there were so many distractions to this tour which allows those looking for South African sympathy to find it. Du Plessis understandably remained at home for the first Test following the birth of his first child, and when he joined the side for the second, the leadership was instant and visible.
Coach Russell Domingo meanwhile had to return to South Africa after the tragic loss of his mother. He missed the only Test the Proteas won.
AB de Villiers spent plenty time on Twitter cheering the boys on from the sofa, but after captaining the Proteas to an underwhelming Champions Trophy ODI campaign, he’d already announced that he wasn’t going to be part of this Test series. Pick and choose, and all that.
Dale Steyn’s recuperation from injury continued at the same time that Vernon Philander’s body let him down in England, missing large passages of the series. First it was a finger injured while batting, then a stomach illness that put him in hospital and finally a bad back that left him out of the final Test.
And Kagiso Rabada was suspended for the second Test because he happened to help Ben Stokes get to the dressingroom after getting him out. An accumulation of demerit points they call it. Twitterati probably just sums it up with a short ‘ffs!’
And, oh yes, everyone’s eyes were open – apart from those cosying media who didn’t want to see – to the fact that Domingo’s position was being undermined as England’s bowling coach Ottis Gibson was openly courted to become the next Proteas coach. An absolute disgrace and insult to Domingo and the squad.
As for the cricket. South Africa started the fourth day of the final Test at Old Trafford already 360 runs behind and without a prayer.
Despite a spirited, classy and aggressive 123-run fourth-wicket partnership between Hashim Amla and Du Plessis, taking the score from 40-3 to 163-3, South Africa were never going to get close to winning on a deteriorating pitch and with another new ball to be taken down the line.
Quinton de Kock’s acceleration to Test greatness will have been slowed by this series, while Rabada didn’t shake the earth as much as was expected from him. Both are gifted young players however, and both will have learned the lesson that playing Test cricket in England is not a case of turning up and being Man of the Match.
This humiliating 3-1 Test series defeat will hopefully be the making of both men. It certainly was the making of Temba Bavuma who put to bed any doubts that De Kock deserves to bat higher than him in a Test batting line-up.
The bottom line is that apart from some gutsy performers – and there were positives, with Morne Morkel bowling his heart out, Keshav Maharaj showing he’s worthy of investing in, plus others – South Africa were a pale shadow of previous squads to have toured.
And, that much was obvious as soon as the teams pitched up at Lord’s for the first Test.