• Symcox: Pitches weren’t the problem

    Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur was out of line blaming the pitches for his team’s batting woes.

    I am pleased for South Africa that they got it all together and completed a 3-0 series whitewash against Pakistan. They have now moved up to second place on the ICC Test team rankings, which is a true reflection of what the state of play is at the moment. The Proteas can be proud of what they have achieved.

    It was always going to be difficult for Pakistan to beat South Africa in their own backyard, but I thought Mickey Arthur’s charges would prove a tougher proposition than they were.

    I reckoned Pakistan would have adapted quicker and worked more things out better than they did. I’m disappointed that the tourists put up a really weak showing. I can appreciate Mickey’s frustration with some of his senior batsmen, but blaming the local pitches and saying that they have deteriorated was offside. He was out of line with those comments and I don’t think he has spent enough time in South Africa of late to make a judgment call on our pitches.

    Because of Pakistan’s terrible losses, I can understand that he would look to the pitches. Yes, guys were getting hit, but I don’t think the pitches were that bad. Sometimes you have a dry season in South Africa where different pitches are prepared and sometimes you have wet seasons. Test cricket is meant to be tough.

    For me, it had nothing to do with the pitches and everything to do with the Pakistani batsmen’s techniques. The top six couldn’t adjust to South Africa’s battery of fast bowlers. You can’t change batting techniques overnight. It is what it is, and you have to work with what you have.

    The minute Duanne Olivier came into the mix, he changed the picture. The real gold was the short, fast bowling. Olivier was the difference. A good few Pakistani batsmen woke up in a cold sweat over the last few weeks due to him, and they will be glad the nightmare is finally over. His sustained pace and the fear factor was evident. That made life easier for everyone else after that in the Proteas camp, and tough for the Pakistanis.

    You could clearly see that no matter what the tourists tried, they just couldn’t change their technique. They kept defending balls that they should have been leaving and didn’t play the short ball well. In bygone days, selectors picked horses for courses on certain pitches. We now tend to blanket players and expect them to play on every pitch. Moreover, with a packed playing schedule, players today don’t have the time to play a host of warm-up fixtures prior to an international series.

    Adaptation in the modern game is quick and we are now experiencing three/four-day Test matches. However, I don’t foresee it becoming a trend if two teams are evenly matched. When you invite subcontinental teams to South Africa, you get the pitches right,  you pick the right fast bowlers, then the Test isn’t going to go five days. Similarly, if South Africa travel to Asia and they get their pitches right and pick enough spinners, we are not going to last four days.

    South Africa produced a strong bowling display over three Tests, and Olivier – the man of the series with 24 wickets – was a real find. A worrying factor for me was Vernon Philander, however. Philander has really dropped a lot of pace. South Africa didn’t actually play four fast bowlers – they played three fast bowlers and a medium pacer that the wicket-keeper was standing up to.

    Philander’s batting ability is probably going to keep Lungi Ngidi out when the latter returns from injury, but I’m disappointed to have seen Vern drop that much pace. If I was Ottis Gibson, I would work very hard to try and find an extra five kilometres per hour from Philander over the next while.

    In terms of South Africa’s batting lineup, Zubayr Hamza came in for the suspended Faf du Plessis and looked the part. I think Hamza’s time has come, and Theunis de Bruyn’s time has gone. The latter flatters to deceive too often. He has talent, but unfortunately that counts for very little at this level.

    Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images


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