If there could possibly be one criticism of the current South African bowling attack, it’s that they can be inconsistent. Not inconsistent in bowling teams out, but inconsistent in keeping things tight – and ever so often a bowler oversteps the line at a crucial time in the match.
It happened twice against Pakistan in the first Test, with both Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel taking wickets off no balls. It happened in England, too, when Matt Prior skied the ball to the covers on the final day of the final Test at Lord’s, right as things were getting tense.
In the last year, South Africa has conceded 96 balls in 13 Test matches, with 43 of those coming against England last year and 43 against Australia. The issue has been subdued slightly, with only five no balls in their last three Tests, but bowling coach Allan Donald says it’s an issue they are well aware of and are addressing.
“The guys know that at this level it’s definitely unacceptable. We police it at training and keep a close eye on [it]. We set very high standards for ourselves and overstepping the line is a no go for us. I think it’s the personal responsibility of the individual to sort it out,” Donald said.
Those on the outside might think that the issue can be easily fixed by simply changing a bowler’s run-up, but Donald says the problem isn’t quite that simple; that it’s far more a mental than technical glitch.
“From a personal perspective, it’s a mental thing. It’s not like the guys have issues with their action, but it’s a mental thing to make sure you stay strong in every delivery and make sure you don’t get mentally sloppy,” the former South African fast bowler said.
Aside from the consistency issue, South Africa’s bowlers are superb, relentless and ruthless, and Donald believes that it’s the best bowling attack in his experience.
“The current crop of bowlers is definitely the best I’ve seen. Collectively, when there is a change of bowler, the pressure never stops. The heat is relentless from both ends and the pace is relentless from both ends, and I think that is a big accolade for this group of bowlers. We have to make sure that we stay relentless in our approach, but it’s fantastic to work with this group of players,” said Donald.
With a team in such a constantly dominant position, one might expect that attitudes might start to swell and that over-confidence might blur into arrogance, but Donald says his charges are down to earth and firmly rooted, hailing coach Gary Kirsten’s influence.
“They have their feet on the ground and in our team meetings, it’s something Gary (Kirsten) hammers home. We have to stay humble. Humble in who we play against and humble in our own personal space, and I think that’s something these guys do very well.”
Donald also knows just how quickly one can fall from grace, especially in a game as unforgiving as Test cricket. The coach believes that not taking challenges, opportunities and achievements for granted is the key.
“Mother Cricket is a tough old lady, and she kicks you where it hurts when you take it for granted. It’s our job to make sure we keep the guys’ attitudes in check when it comes to getting too cocky.”
If South Africa wanted to be cocky, they’d have every right to be so. In the last 12 months they have rolled over every obstacle in their path, and even if they have found themselves in sticky situations, somebody has always stepped up to help them. They could be arrogant if they wanted to, but instead, there seems to be an air of zen and calm engulfing the current South African side, which seems to be growing ever greater as time goes on.
It seems to be a magic formula which is working pretty well for the Proteas, and if they can continue to harness its power and disband any mental frailties, the next two years could be a very prosperous time for South African cricket. DM
Photo: South Africa’s bowling coach Allan Donald laughs after an interview before Thursday’s first cricket test match against England at the Oval cricket ground in London July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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