Are South Africa really as good as they think they are?

England feared a tough tour but the hosts are already showing signs of weakness, writes Stephen Brenkley in Cape Town

Suddenly, the world's best cricket team are looking a little peaky. These formidable foes, widely expected to duff up England this winter, have so far, by and large, carried all the menace of a sunflower. Was this why South Africa were called the Proteas?

Matters may change this Friday at Newlands, Fortress Newlands that is, where South Africa have won 24 of the 27 one-day internationals they have played there and have not been beaten for six years. But lose, as they look capable of doing, and doubt and disquiet will descend like the mist on Table Mountain, quickly and seeming as if it will never shift. England will have seized the initiative.

When Allan Donald, the great former fast bowler, said last week that South Africa's coach, Mickey Arthur, was already concerned about his team's ability to take 20 wickets in a Test match, he might simply have been having a bit of fun. Indeed, Arthur dismissed it out of hand.

But on Sunday in the second of the one-day internationals the fallibility of the South African attack was plain to see. After a brisk start, they were incapable of exerting any threat on England: they could not contain by either stopping runs or taking wickets and they were outsmarted. The batting too lacked resilience as it had in the recent Champions Trophy. There is more to it now than early-season diffidence.

If they were like this in the limited-overs version of the game, their concerns might be compounded in the longer version of the game. Arthur recognises what is at stake and in some of his candid pronouncements – he never ducks a question or issue – a certain concern can be sensed that South Africa may not be as good as he hopes.

"I was disappointed on Sunday and we have got to improve," he said. "I think we know we are in for a long, hard winter. Our execution on flat wickets as bowlers is something we need to hone and I'm just a little bit worried in terms of our younger batters going on to make big scores when they're set. But I'm still confident that we have the right recipe somewhere down the line."

The leader of the attack in both Test and one-day sides is Dale Steyn but he has yet to place his authority on proceedings by taking early-order wickets. He needs support, and in recalling Charl Langeveldt to the one-day team at the age of nearly 35, and placing their trust for the Tests in Makhaya Ntini – when his enduring powers are evidently in decline – they have shown that the cupboard is not as well stocked as they would like England and everybody else to believe.

Wayne Parnell, a fast 20-year-old left-armer, has made immense strides and is coming back from injury, and yesterday Morne Morkel, who toured England last year, was added to the one-day squad. They dare not rush Parnell, and Morkel, for all the bounce he is capable of extracting, has the same radar supplier as Steve Harmison.

The batting looks extremely robust but in the short form it has begun to depend too much on their magnificent captain, Graeme Smith. On Sunday, neither he nor the rest of the order batted with sufficient intelligence. In making a mess of how to play on a particular pitch, it was reminiscent of England.

The injury to Jacques Kallis, their star all-rounder has unbalanced their team and their thinking. Kallis is perhaps less badly missed in the one-day side than in the Test side, but when he is not there South Africa fret about what to do and how to play. Good old Jakes is always there and if he is not the conductor of the orchestra then he is the first violinist and one of the trumpets. Only yesterday Arthur said he was like a 12th player.

It is perfectly understandable that Kallis should have this effect. Since he made his debut in 1995, Kallis has played 295 of South Africa's 354 one-day internationals and 131 of their 147 Tests. If he has not been influential in every match, his sheer indomitable dependability is too easily overlooked.

South Africa simply do not know whether they need one more batsman or one more bowler, or someone who can bat at seven and bowl properly. It has the potential to be messy and there is already the sense that the media and the supporters are becoming impatient.

The audiences have been disappointing at all the international matches so far, all three of them up north. There has simply been too much cricket in the highveld lately – the Champions Trophy was played there barely two months ago – and the reluctance is understandable. Fortress Newlands should be packed on Friday since their last ODI was last April when a rampant South Africa hammered Australia.

Arthur and Smith should hardly be written off yet. As with England, South Africa's limited-overs side is in transition. This series is the first part of establishing a squad and strategies for the 2011 World Cup. But they view the Test rubber as the essence of their season.

Having won in England and Australia and drawn in India in the past 18 months they desperately want to avenge the Test series they suffered against England at home five years ago. Losing the one-day series, however, would be a disaster in terms of preparation. England can sense an opportunity here: South Africa may not be as powerful as South Africa presumed and England feared.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
Sport
Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse come together
football
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The beat is on: Alfred Doda, Gjevat Kelmendi and Orli Shuka in ‘Hyena’
filmReview: Hyena takes corruption and sleaziness to a truly epic level
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life