The 'enemy within' looms large
Ultimate cricket prize in the second test against England
July 31st, 2012
South Africa can achieve the ultimate cricket prize in the second test against England at Headingley in Leeds this week by beating the hosts to move to the summit of the world rankings in tests. But their biggest foe at the famous ground won’t be England, it will be the ‘enemy within’.
Perhaps City Press described that enemy within very aptly by asking in its headline: “Can Proteas avoid the second test choke”.
Defining complacency as a smug feeling of self-satisfaction, the newspaper refers to South Africa’s poor record in second tests, as their last victory in a second test (after winning the first) was against Bangladesh in 2008.
South Africa has a tendency to choke in second tests. Perhaps more appropriate would be to say that South Africa has an inability to motivate players to maintain their focus and intensity after a glorious first-test win.
The last drawn test at Headingley was in 1996 and can be a very unforgiving surface for batsmen. The bounce is variable and it tends to swing in the favour of bowlers or batsmen on the whim of the weather.
In their previous two meetings, there, South Africa was the convincing winners over England at Headingley.
But the present English team are a world-class competitors. Their previous defeat in a test on England soil was two years ago.
The hosts will probably use Steve Finn or Graham Onions at Tim Bresnan’s expense at Headingley. James Taylor will bat at number six, replacing the woefully out of form Ravi Bopara.
The South African coach, Gary Kirsten, was very philosophical in his approach about the second test saying that “[t]here’s a lot of work to be done and we are focusing everything on preparation at the moment, doing what we have to do to win the next test match.”
The South Africans were convincing winners by an innings and twelve runs in the first test at the Oval. They lost only two wickets and captured twenty. Hashim Amla (311), Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith scored centuries.
Smith will play his 93rd test as a captain and will surpass Allan Border as the most capped test captain ever in the third and final test starting at Lord’s on 16 August.
England fans will hope for a backlash by the hosts. Their best chance is if they can make early inroads and takes three cheap wickets. The South African middle order looked a tad out of sorts in the warm-up games, with JP Duminy failing to score big runs and Jacques Rudolph not really setting the world alight either.
If England's bowlers can limit South Africa to 100 for three they will be hoping to expose the fragile batting tail to the world-class swing of James Anderson and the fire and steam of Stuart Broad.
South Africa, in contrast, will be hoping that Dale Steyn can repeat the performance that saw him take seven wickets in 2008 when the visitors won by ten wickets.
England has repeatedly stated that their poor bowling performance was not due to a lack of discipline or motivation. They simply struggled to get conventional swing or reverse swing to trouble Smith, Amla or Kallis.
Historically, Headingley has been an encouraging venue for swing bowlers like Anderson, Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kallis. Kallis captured six for 54 in 2003 when the Proteas triumphed at Headingley, before plunging to an unexpected defeat at the Oval.
England’s mettle will be put to the test, but South Africa’s ability to maintain its energy levels will determine whether they win the series or not.
South African supporters have seen it all before:
• The Proteas won by an innings against India at Centurion in 2010, only to plummet to defeat at Kingsmead in the second tests;
• They also cantered to a win against Sri Lanka last season, only to suffer a humiliating defeat in the second test in Durban; and
• Australia also benefited from South Africa’s “second test choke” in 2011 when Smith’s men won by 8 wickets at Newlands, only to implode in the second test at the Wanderers.
Kallis, aware of the dangers of such a fate, told the Sunday Times, “All we are going to do, is to focus on winning a match. If we win the test series, or become number one, then so be it, but that is not the aim. The aim is to win the next match.”
South Africa has rested some of their key personnel. Imran Tahir was not requested to bowl in the warm-up match to the second test and Kallis, Amla and Smith all took a breather. Smith travelled home to be at the side of his wife, Morgan Deane, for the birth of their first child.
Will this make England’s task of squaring the series easier?
South Africa would like to hit the ground running at Headingley on Thursday in order to improve their mediocre second test record of recent times.
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