Proteas were mentally strong in winning Test
27 July 2012 | Neil McKenzie
What a remarkable turnaround it was – to triumph by an innings margin and only losing two wickets to boot was certainly not on the cards when England strode off the park on 267/3 on that first day.
I can attest to the fact that the English journos were all over the team – the papers were harping on about our underwhelming showing the next day.
Little did they know how this game would change.
Refocused and energised, the bowlers came screaming back, harvesting the last seven scalps for only 119 runs before three men combined to score 624 runs between them!
We shouldn’t underestimate Graeme Smith’s 131 – it was a magnificently prudent effort where he showcased his familiar steeliness, especially in realising that he needed to take charge after the early loss of Alviro Petersen.
“Biff” never really gets a break from the cricketing public, meaning he was once again under pressure to perform going into this series despite his pedigree.
He also had the added stress of knowing his first little bundle of joy would be arriving imminently as well as the emotion prevailing over Mark Boucher’s unfortunate retirement but typically took it in his stride.
The skipper had laid one of the main foundations for victory.
As a sidebar, I want to congratulate him and Morgan on the birth of Cadence earlier this week.
And then we come to that man Hashim Amla.
He’s an unbelievable cricketer, arguably our best batsman for the past four years – in a side packed with batting power as ours, that’s quite an accolade.
Hash is an amazingly disciplined cricketer and is always aiming to improve his game, something he even mentioned after making a record unbeaten 311.
You’d struggle to find a nicer, compassionate guy off the field but that belies the guy on the field.
I always wonder what goes through his mind when he’s batting because one thing’s for sure, last week he was brutal.
I don’t think I have to say too much about Jacques Kallis. At 36, he remains a beacon of continued excellence with a hunger to perform – simply legendary.
We can all marvel about this superb victory but there is one question that some will ask?
Did we expose deficiencies in England’s play or were they simply just bad during the Test?
I’m wary of pointing out weak spots in the English line-up, especially since they’ve shown in the past that they don’t take one defeat lying down.
They will be back.
But I do feel that England lost this game in the mental stakes.
Games between top-ranked nations are like a bout. England won the first couple of sparring rounds but never truly knocked the Proteas down.
When they returned on the second day, you got the impression England thought this could become a walkover.
They would post 600 and bowl us out twice.
Yet it was the South Africans that made the decisive mental shift, they were the ones that made things happen.
More pleasingly, we showcased that thought had gone into our game plans, like the way Graeme and Hash played Graeme Swann to take the LBW out of the equation.
Imran Tahir was also a revelation in that second innings, bowling with control that made him threatening but also parsimonious – a dangerous combination.
With the benefit of hindsight, giving him his Test apprenticeship on seamer-friendly wickets looks like it may yet pay off.
It’s allowed him to become a more patient bowler and allowed the team to keep some aspects of his game hidden. If he came in on turning wickets and had done well, England might’ve been able to examine his full repertoire.
The key for Imran is not to go full out on all his variations – it gives him control and, of course, that vital dose of unpredictability.
It’s fortunate that the guys only have a two-day game in Worcester that started yesterday, it’s allowed them to sort out the mental implications of this big achievement.
Meanwhile, England will be stalled because when you lose badly as that you just want to get back on the field and make things right.
That can add unnecessary pressure.
In all then, we all hope that this win is a trigger for the Proteas to perform at a consistently high standard.
They sure do have the ability to do that but when the stakes are high such as these, you need to guard against becoming complacent.
As we saw, you can dominate the first day and then lose the next four.
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