Cricket: Slow and steady wins the race

Cricket: Slow and steady wins the race

Eye-wateringly slow run-rates on a pitch that was as stodgy as stale pudding might not have won over fans in Zimbabwe, but South Africa’s means were justified in the end when they claimed a nine-wicket win in Harare. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Test cricket takes up a lot of time. In a fully completed Test, it takes around 30 hours to get a result. Within that time, much can happen and much can be learnt. It requires plenty of patience. For many, patience simply means being okay with waiting, but in cricket, it also involves how you behave while waiting.

South Africa have had to do a lot of waiting over the last four days. They had to wait to bat, they had to wait for runs, they had to wait for wickets and they had to wait for a positive result. How they behaved while waiting divided opinion form the aggrieved watchers to players who were gripped by tenacity. What was most important is that the batsmen valued their wickets and the bowlers rarely strayed in their discipline.

Their efforts paid off as they claimed a nine-wicket win against a Zimbabwe side that pushed them far more than anyone anticipated. Dean Elgar continued his settlement as opener, Faf du Plessis continued his best impersonation of Geoffrey Boycott, Quinton de Kock showed that he is mature in cricketing years, JP Duminy continued his role as lower order shepherd and Alviro Petersen managed to score another 30-odd before getting out. The bowlers, too, did their bit. Dale Steyn continued to be Dale Steyn while Morne Morkel, bowling with the luxury of an adequate spinner, was able to be more aggressive. Vernon Philander, despite struggling for wickets, managed to keep things tight and help build pressure, and then there was Dane Piedt, who grabbed his long-awaited opportunity with both hands.

Despite a go-slow approach, the Proteas still managed to take 20 wickets, they still managed to get victory within four days and they still managed to extend their unbeaten run away from home. It will carry into 2015, meaning this side has gone nine years without losing a series on the road. In the last five years, they have lost just two Tests away from home, winning ten and drawing nine. Some of those results, some will argue, might have translated into wins if South Africa weren’t so defensive, but for them, defensive has been the best form of ultimate attack: climbing to the summit of the Test rankings.

In Zimbabwe, South Africa probably haven’t won over fans and they certainly didn’t play attractive cricket, but they were effective. From day one, it was clear that the pitch had been designed to make things as difficult for South Africa as possible. Knowing that their strengths lie in their pace attack and their powerhouse batsmen, it would have been foolish to work against that. Instead, the deck was sub-continental in nature, with Zimbabwe probably betting that South Africa would persist with an ineffective Imran Tahir.

What they weren’t bargaining for was for Dane Piedt to make his debut and live up to the hype that has surrounded him. Piedt, with his eight for 152 in the match, recorded the best figures for a South African spinner on debut. He was the first spinner for a long time to not only turn the ball, but to turn it square. While he did have moments of a typical rookie, there was enough in his performance to offer promise for the future.

Excitement around spinners who emerge has often been unfounded and resulted in nothing but disappointment, and the elation around Piedt’s ability is warranted, but a spoonful of caution is always prescribed. He has paid his dues on the domestic circuit and the friendly jokes around him sleeping in his Test cap will continue for a long time, while everyone wonders if South Africa have finally found a key cog that’s been missing from their line-up for such a long time.

How South Africa manage him in future will be another big test. The conditions in Zimbabwe were helpful, but they are far more strenuous at home. Their next Test is against the West Indies in Centurion, on a wicket that is fast and has buckets of bounce.

They could adopt their “horses for courses” approach and go with an all-out seam attack to throttle the opposition and give fans the ruthlessness they so crave. Or South Africa might opt to see how their latest recruit fares on pitches where he will not get so much assistance and where he has to work far harder for his wickets. That, of course, is a luxury concern for the future.

For now, focus shifts to the one-day series, for which a cluster of rookies have been ushered in. The remainder of this year is all about building up to the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. For an inexperienced South African team, Zimbabwe will offer a far sterner challenge than they did in the Tests, but if this one-off match has taught anyone anything, it’s that future careers can be crafted in the strangest of places, and Bulawayo holds the key to the future for a select few. DM

Scorecard summary:

South Africa 397 (Du Plessis 98, De Kock, 81, Nyumbu 5-157) and 44 for 1 beat Zimbabwe 256 (Taylor 93, Steyn 5-46, Piedt 4-90) and 181 (Sibanda 45, Piedt 4-62) by nine wickets.

Photo: South Africa’s Hashim Amla plays a shot on the fourth day of the second cricket test match against Pakistan in Cape Town, February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.