Pointless obduracy

South Africans in general have a reputation for being stubborn and tenacious. Unfortunately, under captain Smith these qualities were taken to the extreme.

While Australia have had somewhat of an up-and-down season, their tenacity and experience helped the team win against South Africa and Sri Lanka. In two of the three Tests, South Africa were in strong winning positions, only to falter at crucial times. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, looked a demoralised team when they arrived in Australia after very poor one-day performances against India and New Zealand. However, they rallied well in Australia and with Tom Moody at the helm, a few young players showed they have a promising future.

South Africans in general have a reputation for being stubborn and tenacious. Unfortunately, under captain Graeme Smith these qualities were taken to the extreme. Obviously, Smith had planned even before he left South Africa that he would fire from the hip and try to get under the skin of the Australians. You might get away with this if you are the best team, but when you are the underdog, it is usually embarrassing and fruitless. This proved to be the case with South Africa and by the end of their tour they looked a beaten side and a divided lot.

Smith's form completely deserted him, and on numerous occasions he was out playing shots in the manner a distracted person would. Smith would have been better off if he had adopted "We have come to Australia to learn" approach, for then he could have quietly gone about making improvements to the team and avoided the intense pressure he brought upon himself and the team by mouthing off too much. The South Africans, no doubt, were unlucky with injuries to some of their players, but they were too stubborn to examine themselves and the tactics, if any, they used.

I have been worried for a long time about the influence the English coaches have had on South African cricket. From the time they are in primary school, the South African youngsters come under the tutelage of English county cricketers seeking a soft life in their off season. Most of them are only second grade players with little knowledge of anything else but the English way. This is usually very negative with little flexibility to shape the natural talent of the youngsters. The people and the conditions in South Africa are more like Australia. It is a pity that their free spirit is not given greater encouragement.

In Australia, the South Africans lacked flexibility in their tactics and they seemed to be doing the same thing from the first to the last game. They were far too stubborn and it seemed that their captain and coach wouldn't concede that by doing what they were doing, they were only digging themselves into a much bigger hole. With enormous footage of videos to look at, it should have been obvious that the tactics weren't working and the batsmen's technique and mental aggression were just not adequate.

South Africa must take a long, tough look at what is happening in their coaching structure if they hope to reach the top. The Australian selectors are looking to the future. The squad they have chosen for the ODI Series in South Africa is a proof of this. On the one hand, they have some experienced players, especially batsmen, to build big scores to win matches, but on the other it is obvious that they are looking for new bowlers. Obviously, the uncertainty of Glenn McGrath's future hangs heavily on their minds. While he may not have been as penetrative last season as in the past, he has shackled almost all the batsmen with his line and length. With Brett Lee likely to either take wickets or go for plenty of runs with the new ball, it is imperative that Australia has someone to keep a tight leash on the batsmen and apply the pressure at the other end.

Trevor Hohns, the chairman of the Australian selection committee, has been quoted as saying that the Australian squad contained "a good blend of youth and experience". He could have easily added something that is badly needed, particularly youth. The Australian selectors obviously have great faith in Shane Watson, who has quickly returned to the side following shoulder injury. Watson, the selectors hope, will be the solution to Australia's perennial search for an all-rounder.

Watson is certainly a talented and very dedicated youngster whose strength, in my view, lies more in batting than bowling. He is a big, strong lad with nice pace — not express, but still quick enough to send a batsman on to the backfoot. I would, however, like to see him concentrate on swing. His action suggests he should be able to swing the ball away, but he must develop the confidence to bowl on a fuller length to get the ball to move away. At present his length is slightly negative as he bangs the ball into the pitch. Mitchell Johnson from Queensland is an interesting prospect. People, whose cricketing knowledge I trust, tell me he is surprisingly quick and has the instinct for taking wickets. How quickly he develops will depend on the opportunities he gets in South Africa. Fourteen players will be going on this short tour and with not many ODIs to be played, Johnson will probably struggle to get a game. However, time will tell. Cricket, after all, has a long list of players who have grabbed the opportunities when teammates have been injured.

Australia's batting looks strong, capable of playing right down the list. The openers are set in place with Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich. Unless injury or poor form strikes the team, the top six and the only specialist batsmen in the team will be the openers plus Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds. If one of them is injured Shane Watson will be the replacement.

I cannot remember a time when Australia did not take a genuine reserve batsman on tour. Backed by a boisterous local support, South Africa will be a much tougher opposition than they were in Australia.

If the wickets have a little juice in them, the South Africans will have the best chance of winning, as their fast bowlers are likely to be more dangerous than they were in Australia.