Five lessons from the Boxing Day Test which England won by 241 runs.
Amla under pressure
Hashim Amla is facing the toughest challenge of his career. His captaincy is under the microscope after another heavy defeat and his continued struggles with the bat aren’t helping. Amla says he still wants the captaincy but he will need to prove that he can help turn the team’s fortunes around. Strong leadership will be needed to do that and Amla has to show he is still the right man for the job. For now, there are no other realistic candidates to take over the captaincy which buys him time to prove his critics wrong.
The struggle is real
South Africa’s confidence with the bat is at an all-time low and the timing couldn’t be worse. Their No 1 ranking is under serious threat and it’s likely England will only get better as the series progresses, especially when they welcome back James Anderson for the second Test. If South Africa can overcome the mental challenge in Cape Town they will give themselves a chance of levelling the series.
Piedt justifies his place
Dane Piedt is moving quickly to establish himself as South Africa’s first-choice Test spinner after a standout performance in Durban. He has 18 wickets in just three Tests and claimed his first five-wicket haul (5-153) at Kingsmead. It was the first Test five-for by a South African spinner at Kingsmead since Hugh Tayfield took 8-69 against England in 1957.
Dale Steyn pulled up with a shoulder injury midway through the game. He was scheduled to go for a scan at a hospital but stayed in the dressing room and even went back on to the field. He tried to bowl again but pulled up after only three deliveries. He continued to field and was even sent out as a nightwatchman later the same day. It was a confusing state of affairs. A scan eventually showed no tear in the muscle but the stiffness was so severe that Steyn is unlikely to play in Cape Town. Considering the Proteas were already in a losing position at that time and highly unlikely to even draw the game, a long-term view should have been taken from the outset. Steyn should not have tried to bowl again and should not have even fielded. There are still three Tests to play and losing your best bowler for the rest of the series was a real possibility. The decision making in the South African camp has been suspect and needs to be addressed.
Desperate times called for desperate measures and that is why the selectors opted to entrust AB de Villiers with the wicketkeeping duties for the first Test rather than recall the in-form Quinton de Kock. The selectors didn’t bargain on a story surfacing during the game that De Villiers was contemplating retiring from Test cricket in the near future and in a subsequent television interview he admitted to being concerned about his workload across all formats. Was it a dig at the decision makers? Maybe. But it is now clear it was the wrong call and was evident in the fact that De Kock has been called up for the second Test. One can only hope lessons were learned.