Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says a lack of patience and application is undermining the Proteas’ batting performances.
South Africa enjoy an unassailable lead in the three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing. The pitches have proved disappointing and the batting displays well below par.
A mitigating factor is that there is more cricket played nowadays than there used to be and the squares get worn out owing to over-preparation. However, I’m not convinced that the personnel preparing our grounds are up to speed. Bloemfontein, traditionally one of the outstanding batting strips in South Africa, has gone to the dogs and it was an international match they so badly needed.
Around the world, the best pitches are often produced by groundsmen who are ex-players. I’m not suggesting it’s always the case that retired players make top-notch groundsmen, but the best in the business are those who have been in the game for a long time. As a groundsman, it’s an art to know exactly what to get out of your pitch. Phil Russell, who was fantastic at Kingsmead, is a case in point.
As home coach, Ottis Gibson must be extremely frustrated in terms of what is going on with the pitches. However, of even greater concern is the technical and mental shortcomings of the Proteas batting line-up. I believe we are seeing the fruits of a provincial system that is watered down and not as demanding on batsmen. It vindicates the perception that first-class cricket is really upmarket club cricket.
Batting in international cricket is damn hard work and bowlers are astute. There is a patent lack of patience and application from the Proteas batsmen and that is what worries me. We have to play the circumstances of the match, but at the moment our batsmen aren’t working it out.
For argument’s sake, Khaya Zondo walked to the crease when the Proteas were four wickets down and proceeded to slog sweep on an up-and-down pitch. Meanwhile, Christiaan Jonker played a shocker of a shot when his team was in dire trouble. In the absence of Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, David Miller and Faf du Plessis, who will play for the Proteas against Zimbabwe in the third and final ODI at Paarl, players on the periphery of the squad are playing for places in the Proteas’ World Cup set-up.
The coaching staff should have told the players: ‘Guys, before we start the summer series there are places up for grabs in the World Cup squad. You are going to get a few chances to potentially cement a place.’ However, after the first two ODIs against Zimbabwe, I would ask them in the change room: ‘Are you guys valuing the opportunities you are getting or is it merely another game along the way?’
In order to turn it around, I feel there has to be a dramatic mindset shift within the Proteas’ batting strategy. Instead of brave cricket, the Proteas need to play proper cricket and stick to the basics…
Another team that has copped criticism for their batting strategy is the Titans, who played out a draw in the opening match of the 4-day Franchise Series against the Dolphins. I know the modern trend is to play attacking cricket, however, the four-day game has to be treated akin to a Test match.
Criticising Mark Boucher and his men is way off the mark. At the end of the day, Boucher as a coach doesn’t like losing and if you can’t win a four-day match, you must make sure that your opponent doesn’t. Boucher has created a culture of hating to lose at the Titans, which is why they are head and shoulders above the rest on the domestic scene. It’s something that the Proteas can learn from.
I think the Proteas management have to punish players for poor performances. As a coach, you must be firm and say: ‘That is not the way we play – you’ve had your chance now only come back when you’re hungry.’
When you are afforded opportunities and you mess them up then you must suffer the consequences. In my opinion, that is what the attitude should be like within the national team fold.
PAT SYMCOX COLUMNS
Photo: Wikus de Wet/AFP/Getty Images)