It’s been a while since South Africa played in Port Elizabeth, and they have a good chance to manage a total whitewash over New Zealand – which would be the ideal way to set themselves up for an important series against Pakistan. Skipper Graeme Smith is confident his charges will step up. By ANT SIMS.
The last time Graeme Smith played a Test match in Port Elizabeth, he scored 28 and 11, the West Indies won the match by 128 runs, and there was a big old hoo-haa about the Boxing Day Test.
One would be clutching at straws to find similarities between then and now, and perhaps the only constants that remain are that the wicket in Port Elizabeth is slow and the wind blows like hell. These conditions will play a big role in South Africa’s approach come Friday.
“Naturally everybody knows PE is generally a little bit slower. Maybe a bit harder work for bowlers and batters. The wind is a big factor at this ground and probably the big thing is there’s not really the bounce and carry that we get at our bigger stadiums around the country. It can be a different style of cricket that you need to play here to be successful,” the skipper said.
Adapting to conditions and adapting quickly has been a key part of South Africa’s success away from home, but it’s something they have struggled to put in place on home turf. Smith knows that sitting back and hoping things will just fall into place simply won’t do, especially with the potential of a series whitewash looming.
“One of our strengths when we are away from home is that we get to a place and we understand how and what we need to do to win there. I think at home sometimes it’s just easy to slip into the mode that this is what we do in South Africa. Maybe that’s one reason why we’ve let it slip in the past. Maybe in Durban in the past when the wicket’s been a bit slower and taken a bit of spin, we haven’t really adapted as well. We are aware of those things and we need to hopefully put them into practice,” Smith said.
South Africa dominated much of the first Test against New Zealand, having bowled them out for 45 and won the Test before tea on the third day. However, some sloppy fielding and a little bit of sloppy bowling made it look as if though the side was getting lax. Smith knows this, but he also knows that his charges have got the ability to worm themselves out of a hole.
“I think if you win in three days and you are not happy with that, then you have problems. But I think, if anything, there were 10 overs maybe after tea on day two where we got a little bit loose. I think we bowled 19 overs for 33 runs before tea, which was some of the best bowling I’ve seen with the new ball. And then we came out and thought maybe we could knock a few people over and got a bit loose, but we were able to pull it back. Day three we were on the money again. So besides 10 overs I think it was a high standard cricket game,” the skipper said.
From the outside looking in, South Africa seems like a well-oiled machine. The team appears to have found a balance that works, and despite Dean Elgar’s underperformance since his debut, Smith believes he just needs a little bit more time and guidance form the old guard before he, too, will be flourishing in the evergreen Proteas team.
All eyes will be on Robin Peterson, too. Port Elizabeth is his old stomping ground, his home turf, and while he may never have played a Test here, he has carved a niche for himself in the Proteas. He’s done well in the shorter formats of the game and with Imran Tahir seemingly falling by the wayside in Tests, Peterson fulfils a dual role of both taking wickets and chipping with a couple of runs here and there. Smith has nothing but praise for the 33-year-old, and believes he could play a much bigger role in this Test, compared to the 16 overs he bowled in the first match.
“Robbie’s game has gone to a different level over the last two years. I expect him to play a big role here. With the wind and the surface here, I think the key to him is that he has settled down as a person – he has really a good cricket brain and from that perspective, it is nice to have someone who knows what he wants to do,” Smith said about the bowling all-rounder.
New Zealand will no doubt come back hard in the final Test. The Black Caps have made a few changes for the final clash, with Chris Martin dropping out – rookie Trent Boult is now expected to lead the attack and will partner with Neil Wagner. James Franklin is also out through injury, and Colin Munro will debut.
On paper it looks an easy task, but it’s the mental test which will be the biggest for South Africa, if they come out on top here they’ll set the tone for an important home series against Pakistan in February. DM
Photo: South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith plays a shot off the bowling of Australia’s Mitchell Starc at the WACA in Perth during the second day’s play of the third cricket test match December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
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