Will the real Protea pace attack please stand up?
A flat pitch, bad weather, a bit of bad luck and some mediocre bowling from the Proteas all played a part as South Africa drew the first Test against Australia in Brisbane, but captain Graeme Smith has faith that his charges will improve. By ANT SIMS.
For all the hype that surrounded the first Test between Australia and South Africa, it delivered very few fireworks. A flat pitch, a whole day lost due to rain and some average bowling by the Proteas all contributed to a rather dull affair in which the runs piled on and both sides had to settle for the draw.
Ed Cowan and Mike Hussey both scored centuries for the hosts, while skipper Michael Clarke added a mammoth, unbeaten 259 to take his total Test runs for the year to 1,041 at an average of 115.66.
South African captain Graeme Smith admits that there was some spunk missing from his bowlers. The Proteas scored 450-10 in their first innings after winning the toss and batting first, while the Aussies responded with 565-5 in their first innings. Smith says he expects better.
"I think we just didn't hit our straps with the ball. Four hundred and fifty was a good total, winning the toss and batting," Smith said.
"It was a little bit damp on the first two batting days, [but] then it dried out nicely. Certainly Michael and Cowan transferred that pressure onto us and we could have responded a little bit better.
"But I'll expect our bowlers to do better in the future."
While there were certainly phases in the Test where the South African bowlers looked like they might be able to get something out of a dead pitch, Smith concedes that his charges simply didn’t put enough pressure on Australia.
"I just don't think we backed up well enough," he said.
"We had periods when we were good, then lost our way a little bit. We didn't really bowl well in partnerships to create enough pressure on Australia's batting.
The Proteas now take a bit of a breather before the second Test starts in Adelaide on 22 November, and Smith has faith that the team will come back strong.
"All in all, I cannot complain about our bowlers. The majority of the time they rock up and they perform extremely well. Hopefully that will happen in Adelaide again."
Inconsistency from the bowlers continued to plague the South African attack, with the bowlers conceding 23 no balls between them. While Morne Morkel had seemingly found his rhythm, Vernon Philander and rookie Rory Kleinveldt both struggled to keep things tight. For the captain, these errors are unacceptable.
"No balls played a big role in the game. Probably the highest scorer in the game," Smith said.
"From our perspective, it's not acceptable, and the guys know that. There's a good personal responsibility there and it's something that needs to be improved upon.”
The Proteas were in a good position at the end of the third day, when they’d restricted the Aussies to 111-3, but they failed to capitalise as Cowan and Clarke put them to the sword.
"Certainly when we had them at 40-3 and then 11-3 overnight on day three, there was a great opportunity for us. We took that into our bowling the next day and just sort of meandered along."
In the opposite camp, the Australian skipper lauded his players for the fight and grit they showed.
"The team showed a lot of character after day one. I wish we had a bit of play on that washed out day, but I think the boys deserve a lot of credit for their attitude,” Clarke said.
"Our intent was the way it needs to be when you are playing against such a good team. I think the way Ed Cowan and Mike Hussey batted, they certainly showed that intent."
A draw might seem like a small victory for the Australians, who need to win the Test series in order to displace South Africa at the top of the rankings, but Clarke refused to claim any sort of advantage as the teams head to Adelaide.
"Conditions are a lot different," he said. "At the end of the day, there's no result in this Test match.
"We have to win this series to get back to being the number one Test team in the world, so we have to do our best to push for a win at every opportunity.
"We need to prepare as well as we did for this Test match, but we need to execute better on day one with the bat or the ball."
The Proteas stuttered somewhat on the final day, after Australia declared. The visitors fumbled to 166-5, with a lead of 51, before the two captains decided to shake hands and call the draw.
Both sides have to go back to the drawing board now, and will take a four-day break before heading to Adelaide. Coach Gary Kirsten will briefly return to South Africa before he joins the squad on Monday and preparations for the second Test begin. DM
Photo: Australia's Michael Clarke completes a run against South Africa during the first test cricket match at the Gabba in Brisbane November 13, 2012. REUTERS/Aman Sharma