JOHANNESBURG – The gap that the Proteas need to bridge to become a leading Test nation again – first shown by England last year – seems to still be a wide one.
The Sri Lanka series win earlier this summer – with one Test victory coming against a team shorn of three bowlers – merely papered over the cracks.
This is a bad South African Test team. It has very talented individuals and some young players who may go on to achieve great things, but as a team it isn’t very good and that is reflected in the results in Pakistan and the way those matches were decided.
It’s worth recalling that Pakistan came into the series under huge pressure. Their coach, Misbah ul-Haq’s job was on the line after a dreadful tour to New Zealand. They capped two debutants in the first Test and Babar Azam was captaining the Test team for the first time.
SA just kept giving them opportunities – like some sort of cricketing charity. They got bowled out for below par totals in the first innings of both Tests, they suffered batting collapses in all four innings in the series, dropped catches and the ground fielding was of a very low standard. They were out-fielded by Pakistan.
“The big difference is fielding,” Boucher said in explaining one poor aspect of SA’s play. “Look at this game; in the second innings, they were 80/5, we dropped two chances in two balls, that’s 80/7. (Let’s say) we give them an extra 50 runs, bowl them out for 120 and we end up chasing 220, win the game and we don’t end up ’uhming’ and ’aah-ing’ about all these things.
“Our match awareness of when to tighten the screws is where we lacked, and that is the reason why we lost the game. Pakistan on the other hand took some fantastic catches when they were offered those opportunities.
“We didn’t bat well, we didn’t field well … I thought our bowling was the one thing that really stood out.”
Boucher also outlined how the team lacked proper match-awareness, something captain Quinton de Kock mentioned briefly in the post-match TV interview.
Pointing to the batting against the second new ball yesterday – when seven wickets were lost for 33 runs in 11.4 overs – the Proteas coach said the players had talked about it in meetings, but when the moment came, seemed to forget what they were supposed to do.
“Yes we are in the subcontinent and the new ball played a massive role in that collapse which can happen, but not to the extent of losing 7 wickets for 30-odd runs,” Boucher said of the latest implosion yesterday.
“The match awareness when the new ball was taken, wasn’t quite where it should have been. We spoke about it, we needed to understand that the new ball was vitally important to get through.
“The history of the game over here, when the new ball is 15 to 20 overs old, it gets a lot easier to bat. We didn’t do that and they picked up wickets.”
In the first innings too, the run out of Wiaan Mulder – the fourth SA batsman to be run out in the series had a huge effect on how that innings unfolded, and the crucial 71-run lead Pakistan earned.
“We keep talking about the mental application. In really big moments when we needed to drive home an advantage, we’d get a partnership, then we seem to find ways to get out.
“In the first innings with Temba and Wiaan – it looked like the game was getting easier and they were building a partnership, then (Mulder) gets run out. It’s just stupid … we’re finding ways to get out in really important moments in a game, which, from a batting perspective, really cost us,” Boucher said.
Quite how to improve those aspects is something that Boucher, the coaching staff and convenor of selectors Victor Mpitsang have to ponder. There is plenty of time for that with Australia no longer touring. “It’s obviously a time where we are blooding new players,” said SA’s second innings centurion, Aiden Markram.