Ramifications of Failure

With the dust having settled a bit I wonder if it's now possible to make any sense out of what happened at Kingsmead a few days ago.

Because of the ease with which England had built their lead I wasn't expecting South Africa to have too much trouble batting out time. The potential movement, for both Swann and the seamers, looked slow, the South African batting line-up looked experienced and capable, if just a little short with Morne Morkel at eight. Sitting on a sofa a few thousand miles away all looked fine and dandy.

It soon became clear, though, that things were far from fine. We had Amla offering an exemplary display of how not to drive at a big turning off-spinner, followed by Kallis, de Villiers and Duminy all temporarily forgetting that in seaming conditions it can often be just as dangerous to try too hard not to use your bat as it is to use it.

Kallis's decision not to play a stroke at a ball from Broad which, even if it hadn't moved, would have come very close to his off-stump, looked like an especially bizarre misjudgement. But why?

Well, the trite explanation (but also the correct one) is to say that the pressure got to them. When their team's unxepectedly up against it and their minds start to be infected by the negative ramifications of failure, players, even great ones, do very strange things.

But it seems to me that the current South African side are perhaps more susceptible to this type of collapse than many other teams of the past with whom they'd like to rank themselves. I do not feel that they yet have the depth of confidence that goes with a record of sustained achievement, nor the type of settled attack which instils confidence in their batsmen. It's surely unquestioned now that the sentimental, possibly politically-influenced, decision to play Ntini at Durban was wrong, and it heaped further pressure on a team that was more vulnerable to the type of bristling counter-attack which England came up with than they'd have liked us to have believed.

This is a good team, if you let it play. If you get in its face and do what it doesn't fancy, like trying to get people out with orthodox off-spin from the first ball you bowl, you've got a chance.

And Kallis - immensely experienced, technically-sound, but inclined to be a little too predictable, one-paced and cocksure - exemplifies their vulnerability to opponents who do what they least expect.

Whether, given their terrible post-isolation record there, England can do the same in Cape Town in the face of what's bound to be an intense South African backlash, remains to be seen.

As someone who spent the early days of 1996 in the shadow of Table Mountain and who still comes out in a muck sweat at the mere mention of the names of Dave Richardson and Paul Adams, I know what can happen out there on the Newlands acres.

We await Sunday morning with interest.


Rob said...

South Africa gave a batting performance very reminiscent of past England ones. In a way they have a similar line-up -- good on paper but how they play depends on the direction of the wind. Pressure and fragility do not make good bed fellows.

Brian Carpenter said...

Very true, Rob, although one difference I feel is that England never really thought they were that good, whereas South Africa reckon they are, making them more vulnerable to opponents who are better than they expect.

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