Problems stack up for outplayed Proteas
England scored only 36 more runs than South Africa‚ on average per innings‚ and took just one more wicket over the course of the Test series.
So how were South Africa comprehensively beaten in three of the four matches‚ in the last of them at Old Trafford on Monday when England surged to victory by 177 runs with a day to spare?
And if the visitors could get it together well enough to win the other game — at Trent Bridge‚ where they were better than their opponents by 340 runs — how come they couldn’t play more like that more often?
“When it comes to the breaking points in the game South Africa have been found wanting‚” Graeme Smith offered on Test Match Special.
What Smith said was less striking than the fact that the man who said it knew a few things about how to beat England in England‚ having never lost a series here and scoring two double centuries and three mere hundreds in the process.
Where was his like at Lord’s‚ The Oval and Old Trafford?
That question will have to get in the queue. South Africa have many more like it to answer before they take on India and Australia at home next summer.
Most of the concern will be focused on South Africa’s batting.
They used to be known as a team who could fight their way out of trouble‚ but in this series they have earned a reputation for the opposite‚ only twice totalling 300 or more and twice being bowled out for fewer than 200.
“I believed we were a strong enough team to compete with England and we’ve done it on the road everywhere we’ve gone‚” Faf du Plessis.
“At times when we haven’t had the strongest team on paper we’ve found a way to compete against the strong teams out there‚ but we haven’t this time.
“From a batting perspective we haven’t been where we needed to be‚ myself included.
“At times we competed with the bat and England also misfired but there was always one guy that took the game away from us and we didn’t have that one guy.”
Might that one guy have been AB de Villiers‚ who opted out of the series?
“I would love AB to play‚” Du Plessis said. “We all know how good he is and we missed him‚ but we’ve spent too much time talking about when he is going to come back.
“The hope of him coming back is something we need to move past — we need to find someone else who fulfills that role.
“If AB comes back it’s a huge bonus but I don’t expect him to come back into the Test team.”
Du Plessis declined to use the uncertainty over Russell Domingo — whose contract as coach has expired and seems unlikely to be renewed — as an excuse for his team’s performance.
“The coaching staff have been brilliant and they haven’t been sidetracked by what was going on‚” Du Plessis said.
“If it ended for Russell like this then it’s a disappointing way to send him off.
“He’s been a crucial part of what we’ve been doing for the last while and we didn’t play well.”
Du Plessis didn’t try and talk his way around the hole that Vernon Philander’s absence at Old Trafford left in his attack.
“‘Vern’ is … probably the best in seaming‚ swinging conditions which have prevailed in all four Test matches‚ so not having him here was very frustrating and disappointing.”
Philander‚ who pulled out of the match with a lower back strain‚ has missed 11 of the 57 Tests South Africa have played since he made his debut.
He came into the series with an ankle problem then suffered a hand injury in the first Test at Lord’s and came down with a stomach virus that limited his contribution in the third Test at The Oval.
Smith singled Philander out for criticism for his perceived lack of conditioning and Du Plessis concurred‚ albeit more gently.
“It is a challenge for ‘Vern’ because it’s happened too often that he doesn’t play a full series‚” Du Plessis said.
“I’ve spoken to him about that and he’s accepted the challenge that he needs to improve.
“It’s fair that you need to play a lot of cricket for your country and be available for selection‚ and ‘Vern’ accepts that.”
South Africa will face India and Australia in eight tests at home next summer‚ and Philander “needs to be fit to get through all of them”.
That seems the most solvable of South Africa’s problems. As for the rest …