Whenever a team is in trouble, the coach’s default mode is get his men to “stick to the basics, stick to the gameplan.”
The same sentiment is relevant, too, to the high-flying Proteas, understandably elated after their resounding, almost unopposed victory over the West Indies in the first Test in Centurion.
Talk about recent injuries and changes to the batting line-up and the balance of the team are irrelevants, perhaps even to be welcomed to see how the Proteas adapt to changing circumstances.
But given the depth of South African cricket, whatever formula they come up with should be good enough to seal the series in Port Elizabeth, where the second of the three Tests starts on December 26, provided that everyone sticks to the basics and the gameplan
It is not for the team to concern themselves too much regarding who they are facing: they must play what is in front of them to the best standard possible. And South Africa have high standards. Any relaxation of those standards will be a disappointment to themselves and an insult to their opponents. Which means that Stiaan van Zyl must build on his first-Test success, that if Rilee Rossouw, called up as cover for the injured Quinton de Kock, or Temba Bavuma, gets an opportunity, he must seize it with as much flair as Van Zyl.
The Proteas pace attack was less than sharp in the opening sessions of the West Indies innings last time out, but they made up for it in style, tightening their lines and length and doing the basics well. It exposed the paucity of the West Indies batting, where for a select few this can at least go down on the CV as a “good experience”. The veterans were simply outclassed.
On the tactical front, though, it is possible that the Proteas will go for a five-man attack, with their four seamers and the mystery of Imran Tahir’s googly, exploiting what is traditionally a slower pitch at Port Elizabeth.
If the great Clive Lloyd has any say in the matter, the West Indies will surely perform better than they did in the first Test. But their already ravaged line-up has been further weakened by the injury to Kemar Roach. Coming in is yet another debutant , left-arm seamer. The 32-year-old has taken 190 wickets in 62 first-class matches at an average of 20.21.
Perhaps the West Indies will take comfort from the fact that Port Elizabeth was the venue for their last overseas Test victory outside of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. But that was 14 years ago.
If South Africa do the basics well, that trend will continue.