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As Australia slumped to a 2-0 deficit in their Test series against South Africa, the focus was on the home side’s floundering efforts. Australia can learn from the Proteas how to haul themselves out of this mess.
South Africa have turned things around in a remarkable fashion after earlier this year falling into just as deep a crevasse as the one Australia currently find themselves trapped in.
Leading into this current series, South Africa had won only two of their past ten Tests. 12 months ago they had their own summer of horror, like the one currently unfolding for Australia, losing 5-1 combined across series in India and at home against England.
By the end of that summer, which was marred by constant batting collapses, few South African players had firm grips on their spots, injuries were plaguing the Proteas, and team unity was dissolving, with rumours of several senior players considering retirement, partly because of unrest over selection policies.
South African Test cricket was a shambles. Then-skipper AB de Villiers was reported to be mulling over an early retirement, as was seam bowler Vernon Philander, who has destroyed Australia the past fortnight.
At the time South African media also suggested champion paceman Dale Steyn might join that pair in retirement. These reports emerged as South Africa was being comprehensively outplayed at home by England.
The Proteas lost that series 2-1, with their sole victory coming in a dead rubber in the fourth Test. Similar to Australia, it was South Africa’s batting which was dragging them down. In the first Test against England they were in a decent position in their first innings at 2-100 before then losing 6-50. In the second dig of that match they collapsed from 1-85 to be all out for 174.
Things only got worse for the Proteas as they were rolled for 83 in the third Test as they lost the match by seven wickets and handed England a series win. Key batsmen de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy all had awful series, averaging 30, 27 and 24 with the bat respectively, while opener Stiaan van Zyl averaged just 14 across three Tests.
The Proteas chopped and changed, using ten different players in their top six over that series as they scrambled to find a winning formula. The stability of the South African Test team had been undermined by a 3-0 thrashing in India just weeks before that series against England started.
South Africa’s average team total was spectacularly low at just 148 across their seven innings in that four-Test series. Their totals, in ascending order were 79, 109, 121, 143, 184, 185 and 214. A similarly nightmarish series awaits Australia who travel to India in February.
Yet, after this horrific 2015-16 summer, South Africa managed to regroup. First, they hosted New Zealand in August and, after a washed out first Test, they smashed the Kiwis by 204 runs in the second match. Key players Steyn, Philander, du Plessis and Duminy all returned to form and/or fitness.
They carried that momentum through into the home ODI series against Australia, pummelling the visitors 5-0. Now they’ve take another major stride forward by dominating Australia on their home turf. The boys in baggy greens have few positives to take out of this current series.
They should, however, take note of how their opponents managed to swiftly rebound from their own torrid summer just a year ago. To watch South Africa scythe through Australia’s batting line-up yesterday was to witness a side almost unrecognisable to the one which was thrashed by India and England.
They’ve shown it’s possible to turn your fortunes around in a short period of time even with limited or no input from their two best players Steyn and de Villiers.
It’s now up to Australia to prove they, too, can fight back from a position of great weakness.