South Africa would be extremely disappointed with the kind of effort they put up at Centurion to lose the Test in four days. There were a number of reasons for South Africa’s downfall in the opening Test. We list out a few.
Allowing Australia to recover from poor start: Having inserted the visitors in to bat on the opening day, South Africa needed to restrict the Aussies. They began well by having the batting side at 98 for 4, but couldn’t stop a big partnership from developing between Shaun Marsh and Steven Smith. The first innings of a Test mostly determines a match’s fortunes. And once Australia got to 397 in their first innings, South Africa were on the back foot. The momentum had swung in Australia’s favour.
Lack of support for Steyn: Over thelastcoupleof seasons, Dale Steynhas forgeda successful alliance withMorne Morkel and Vernon Philander. But, at Centurion, it was mostly a one-man show with Morkel and Philander unable to provide much assistance to the pace spearhead. Even Steyn, while he got four wickets in the first innings, couldn’t run through the opposition batting line-up, like he did against India. Philander and Morkel on the other hand managed just one wicket each in the game, and that too in the first innings.
Opening failure: For South Africa to stay in the game after conceding a healthy first-innings total, they needed a good opening stand. It did not come though as both Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen were dismissed cheaply. The early losses set South Africa further on the back foot. By the time, the hosts came out to bat a second time round, the match was well out of their grasp. Still, a good opening stand would have given them some hope of saving the Test. They were dismissed without contributing much in the second innings as well.
Poor batting overall: If one takes away AB de Villiers’ batting effort, who made 91 and 48 in the two knocks, South Africa’s batting was major letdown. In fact no other South African got close to a half-century in the Test. The experienced Hashim Amla made 17 and 35, Faf du Plessis made 3 and 18 while JP Duminy made 25 and 10. Significantly, none of them looked comfortable out in the middle, which would worry the South Africans for sure.
Mitchell Johnson factor: Last, but not the least, the unconvincing manner in which the South Africans dealt with Mitchell Johnson was the clinching factor of the Test. Johnson not only picked up 12 wickets but also caused a few body blows with his searing deliveries. Of his wickets, most were top and middle order batsmen. The left-arm fast bowler dismissed openers Smith, Petersen and de Villiers in both the innings. How South Africa deal with him for the rest of the Test matches will go a long way in deciding the fate of the series.
--By A Cricket Analyst