The Proteas’ bowlers lack of Test caps shouldn’t account for their inability to achieve the base expectation for a Test player, writes SA Cricket magazine editor RYAN VREDE.
Inexperience can account for a myriad deficiencies. Consistently missing a good area is not one of those deficiencies.
This is exactly what the majority of the Proteas’ bowlers were guilty of on day one of a Test that should have set the standard for the summer.
There is plenty of potential from the rookies. Lungi Ngidi and Lutho Sipamla, who have played six Tests among them, bowled some deliveries that would trouble the world’s elite batsmen. They also bowled enough freebies to render those deliveries irrelevant.
Wiaan Mulder’s three wickets were a solid return for hard toil, while Anrich Nortje bowled fast without being particularly effective. Keshav Maharaj was always going to be a holding option more than a strike bowler on a wicket that didn’t suit his skill set, and against a side accustomed to negotiating that skill set.
Collectively they were impotent, particularly when they needed to be potent. One look at the wicket suggested that their best chance of striking was with the new ball. Instead Sri Lanka got off to a flyer, thanks in large part to the sublime being merged with the distinctly ordinary, from a bowling perspective.
This accounted for their inability to capitalise on having Sri Lanka 54/3. More experienced Proteas bowling units would have rolled Sri Lanka, whose batters seemed determined to hit themselves out of trouble, for under 150. But inexperience isn’t the reason Sri Lanka enter day two of the Test 340/6. A skills and discipline deficiency is.
I have a degree of grace for Sipamla, who was on debut. There are bowlers who’ve started as badly as he has and built notable Test careers. I even understand Mulder’s position. He took half the wickets despite this being his second Test match.
Ngidi was brilliant and frustrating in equal measure. The swing he generated early in the innings troubled batters, but he often released the pressure with some mediocre bowling. Nortje, deployed as a first-change bowler, and the most acclaimed seamer of the lot, needed to lead. He couldn’t, and perhaps that’s got to do with the fact that he is playing his seventh Test.
Indeed, within the attack, only Maharaj has played more than seven Tests. This brings with it understandable challenges. Bowling the ball in a general area consistently should not be one of those. Club cricketers can be forgiven for bowling a boundary ball per over. Not so Test bowlers.
This is no place to learn the technical and mental disciplines of your trade. It is an indictment on the quality in depth of the Proteas’ seam bowling reserves. It also raises questions about the value of an extended first-class apprenticeship.
Ngidi has played 18 first-class matches. Sipamla, 28. Mulder just 33. Vernon Philander, who played six years of first-class cricket before making his Test debut, consistently questioned this in commentary for SuperSport. If one were to assess why he became the second-fastest bowler in Test history to reach 50 wickets, the fact that he honed his craft in domestic cricket before being elevated would be among the primary reasons.
The lessons learned in the trenches of domestic cricket have been shown to make highly competent Test players. But this alone cannot account for the Proteas’ impotence on day one. The basic ability to build pressure through consistency in line and length was painfully lacking. This will have to be addressed quickly if they hope to win the Test match.
The wicket is a belter and the Proteas’ batters may yet compensate for their bowlers’ shortcomings. Sri Lanka though aren’t a force in the Test game. They haven’t played any form of cricket since March. They have two players ranked in the top 20 Test batsmen, one of whom, Angelo Matthews, isn’t on tour.
Yet they were made to look like a world-class unit, this even with Dhananjaya de Silva forced to retire hurt on 79.
The Proteas’ bowling stocks may never have been this weak. This is concerning, made more so by the fact that Kagiso Rabada is the only bowler of note who is unavailable.