South Africa's inexplicable tactics

EVEN though South Africa may take some satisfaction out of their second innings batting in the Sydney Test, the reality of the so-called battle for the world championship of Test cricket was that it was a disappointing affair.

At home Australia was vastly superior and outplayed the Proteas in every aspect of the game.

It was a one-sided contest and South Africa's negative attitude and lack of application showed yet again England's influence on their cricket.

This was never more obvious than when they bowled and captain Shaun Pollock's field placements were right out of the English county negative school of tactics.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of their cricket was the absence of South Africa's renowned fighting spirit.

Time after time they capitulated with bat or ball when the pressure was on. Even in the field they were lazy and hesitant. They had little sparkle and even less application.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of their play was their inability to follow even the simplest fundamentals of the game.

While Australia is a fine batting team, the pressure was never on them due to the South Africans' inability to bowl good old-fashioned line and length. I have never seen such wayward bowling and seldom an over went by without one or two loose balls, which were despatched to the boundary.

Adding to the misery of the bowlers was the extraordinary tactics and field placements adopted by their captain. It was almost as though he wanted to try every fad, fashion or theory thought of in recent times and I could never see a realistic pattern in any of them.

Sometimes he had seven men on the on side and at other times six. As a result, with the South African bowlers' inability to bowl either line or length, the Australians had a surplus of balls to hit in any direction they chose. Little wonder then they scored around four runs an over throughout the three-Test series.

Their batting was little better and no safer. Once again theory seemed to dominate their thinking rather than playing every ball on its merit.

This was particularly noticeable against the leg spinners where they adopted the English way of theory and hope and relied on the sweep shot to try and manage the situation.

As an old leggie I cannot imagine a method more likely to please the bowler than this approach, for inevitably the batsman will soon hit one in the air or miss one to be leg before or be bowled.

This proved to be the case throughout the series and the big spin of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill was just too much for such foolish tactics.

South Africa's batting with the exception of Jacques Kallis and Gary Kirsten was found short of what is required at the very top in Test cricket.

You have to earn your runs against the Australian bowlers, for there are very few bad balls delivered. You have to learn to work the ball for singles and rotate the strike and thus take the pressure off a little.

South Africa could never do this and inevitably were tied down and forced into error.

The Proteas batsmen's only response was to try to hit fours from balls which were not suitable for the shot. Little wonder then that even when they got a start they got out in the 30s or 40s. South Africa's batting was littered with starts but few high scoring finishes.

This was never better illustrated than in the second innings of the last Test when eight or nine batsmen got into double figures, but only Gary Kirsten went on to score a century.

Contrast this with Australia's first innings when three batsmen went on to score centuries.

The question now is just where do South Africa go from here?

Personally, I think they will struggle. They have lost many tough experienced competitors over the last few years and don't appear to have suitable replacements.

Allan Donald is also close to calling it a day and his exit will be a huge loss for the Proteas.

South Africa have good development programmes but need to relook at their mostly English thinking system if they hope to get the best out of their youngsters.

In addition, they must redefine the tactics they use. They are far too negative at present, which I find very surprising from a country that is generally so positive.

They still have the one-day series in Australia and they must begin the rebuilding programme there. They are already talking this aspect of their cricket up and this new challenge will help them obliterate what has happened this season.

It won't be easy, but South Africa have always shown great resolve in the past and I am sure the spirit is still just below the surface.