South Africa in need of surgery to rescue series

England concern over Collingwood fitness while hosts face several major calls over star names for the third Test which starts tomorrow
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The Independent Online

All the big worries suddenly belong to South Africa. Having been within a wicket of taking a precious lead in the series against England in the first Test, they now find themselves one down after being comprehensively outplayed in Durban.

Not only that, but a team that looked as though it picked itself a fortnight ago might now require both delicate thinking by the selection committee and advice from the government before it takes the field again. The travails of a side that were ranked No 1 in the world until a month ago should not perhaps be overestimated but they are real and they are not about to disappear.

England by contrast appear relaxed but cautious, as they can well afford to be after their victory by an innings and 98 runs on Wednesday. They hardly seem to have been knocked off their stride by the possible absence from their ranks for the third Test, which begins tomorrow at Newlands, of Paul Collingwood.

Although he batted in the nets yesterday, Collingwood is still feeling the effects of a dislocated left index finger, sustained in fielding practice before the start of the fifth day in Durban. If Collingwood fails to make it – and England's coach, Andy Flower confirmed yesterday that he is still doubtful and will need a much more rigorous practice session today – his place will probably be taken by the unlikely figure of Michael Carberry.

Nor will it be left in Collingwood's hands. As Flower put it: "He is desperate to play. We won't be leaving the decision to him because he would probably say anything to play." Until two days ago, Carberry was not in the squad and had to make a dash to the airport on Wednesday night to ensure he arrived here yesterday.

At 29, he is leaving it slightly late to be starting his international career but he scored four Championship hundreds last summer and then another, as well as an innings of 76, when the England Performance Squad were in South Africa last month. He looked in good order yesterday but it will still be an enormous step up in class for a batsman who has had three counties.

Shaun Udal, a former team-mate of Carberry's at Hampshire, who is in South Africa for the third Test said: "Michael was a very attacking opening batsmen who has matured a lot. Shane Warne encouraged him to be a lot more selective with his shots. As a result he's a lot more compact these days."

Although it is not certain that Carberry would replace Collingwood, the strategy of six batsmen alongside four specialist bowlers has worked beyond England's wildest dreams. It was a huge risk and involved much agonising before the decision was taken.

"It was a tricky decision but I think it's always a tricky decision," Flower said. "I don't know if getting away with it is the right description but we thought that on these pitches three attacking seamers and a spinner who we trust to get through a lot of overs would be enough of an attack to take 20 wickets.

"We simply select a side we think is going to give us the best opportunity to win the game so we thought four specialist bowlers would be enough to take 20 wickets and we thought the batting line-up would be solid and long with six batsmen and [Matt] Prior at seven." It is the spectacular success of this strategy, allied to the return to form of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, who both made hundreds in Durban, that will probably mean its retention.

South Africa are not residing in such a happy place. The dramatic loss at Kingsmead showed up glaring deficiencies in technique, resilience and selection. Above all they must decide on the Makhaya dilemma. In the first two matches of the series Makhaya Ntini has been patently lacking form to the point that it is becoming easy to suggest the time has come for him to end a noble and auspicious international career.

Dropping him, however, is not straightforward, partly because he has been such an enduring and successful servant, partly because he is the only black player in the team and there are no others in sight. The South African government intervenes less than once it did but it would not be overjoyed if the cricket team supposed to represent a rainbow nation were unable to parade one black player.

That none is good enough, including Ntini in all objectivity, suggests that coaching programmes have not been an unbridled triumph over the last 18 years since the country re-entered mainstream sport again after the dark age of apartheid. Perhaps it would help now if Ntini himself confronted his own waning powers.

Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, said: "It's the same with any icon cricketer. You tend to give them a bit of a longer run because they deserve it, because they have earned it. Makhaya certainly earned it. I'm not going to say he's not going to play this Test match. That's something we need to assess over the next two days."

But Ntini is not alone in having his place in the side under scrutiny. Ashwell Prince has so far looked every inch the makeshift opener he is, J-P Duminy has looked extremely brittle at number six. Of the bowling attack, Dale Steyn is not yet match-honed, Morne Morkel continues to bowl one good spell followed by two innocuous ones and Paul Harris, the left-arm spinner, seems vulnerable because England are refusing to let him dictate the terms of the contest.

South Africa must themselves adopt a new approach to England's suddenly all-conquering off-spinner Graeme Swann, who has been running the show. They will be heartened by returning to Newlands. Since their readmission to international cricket they have won 14 of the 20 Tests at the ground, losing only three, all to Australia. Sometimes it is a batting paradise, sometimes it is not. The team that wins the toss will bat.

Arthur backed his batsman and seems convinced that Duminy will work his way through his poor form. "We need to win a Test match here," he said. "I'm pretty sure that we'll put 11 guys out on the park I know can win it. Whether it's one change or two changes I'm not sure." One, two or none it is the most important side he, the selection panel and the sports minister have ever picked.

Third Test: Newlands details

*Pitch report Likely to be hard and fast, turning by the fourth or fifth day

*South Africa (possible): GC Smith (capt), AG Prince, HM Amla, JH Kallis, AB de Villiers, J-P Duminy, MV Boucher, M Morkel, PL Harris, DV Steyn, F de Wet.

*England (possible): AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, MA Carberry, IR Bell, MJ Prior, SCJ Broad, GP Swann, JM Anderson, G Onions.

*Umpires: D Harper (Aus), T Hill (NZ). Third umpire: Aleem Dar (Pak).

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