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Lessons from a defeat

One swallow does not make a summer; by the same logic, one crushing defeat does not make a team a bunch of no-gooders. South Africa lost by 13 runs more than the West Indies did to Australia; the Windies came back roaring next time to hand out defeat by a margin of 10 wickets. It remains to be seen whether the Springboks can do something similar.

More than anything, the manner of defeat must have alarmed the South Africans; they went so tamely and seemed to be waiting for the end. They seem to have the same problem as most other teams -- after playing one form of cricket for a long time, they are unable to switch to the other with ease. And the number of one-day games played by South Africa is increasing with every season. It would be well to bear in mind that while Australia did win the Test series against the West Indies, failed to make the finals of their own one-dayer triangular series. They did well in one form of the game and failed in the other.

The Australians did one basic thing right when they began the summer season -- they got their priorities correct. Test cricket is the real thing and no amount of awards, statistics or plain antics glorifying the one-day game will make it anything but an entertainer. South Africa will, similarly, have to make the adjustment and stop batting the way they did on the first day of the Test -- as though they needed to score everything in one day. Test cricket is a waiting game. They did not exactly have the right run-up to this series as three games against the Indians were one-sided most of the time. And Australia play the game fairly hard.

If Peter Pollock and Co react to the situation the same way that the Australian selectors did, then the problems will worsen. Retaining the same team will be the best option; there is no need to hit the panic button. If any change is made, it should only be the induction of Brian McMillan if he is fit. The South Africans play to a fairly tight gameplan and sometimes when they revert to their natural style, they tend to come apart. They played marvellous cricket in the World Cup and then came unstuck against the West Indies, a team whom nobody expected to see winning that day.

South Africa can learn a lot from the way the Aussies played the game. The men who scored were both orthodox players, men who play straight down the line, defend when needed and give the bad ball what it deserves. Neither Blewett nor Waugh tried to be heroes; they are both old-fashioned head-down straight-bat men and they played within their limitations, which really aren't all that many. They did not try reverse sweeps or cross-batted strokes.

South Africa tried the same tactics as they had with the Indians -- keeping the ball up to what was chest height for the Indians. For the Australian players, who are a good bit taller, this was meat and drink. And then, after some time, when the attack wilts, the batsmen can do anything they want within reasonable limits. Another factor that went against South Africa was the fact that the pitch was not half as bouncy as the ones on which they played India. And, the major factor -- they had no answer to the combine of Bevan and Warne.

Port Elizabeth will be no better for the South African bowlers and they will have to adjust accordingly. Only Donald and Pollock, in patches, could match the spells which McGrath and the youngster Gillespie came up with. Klusener was wild at times and Adams, after the initial mystery wore off, was eminently hittable. He will have to develop a lot more variety to trouble players on a pitch like this.

At this point, anyone asked to predict the series outcome would be inclined to back the Aussies to win all three. My bet would be 2-1 or 2-0 to Australia with South Africa getting the better of the exchanges if one does go to a draw. The second Test will, I feel, be closer but Australia are likely to prevail again. The third if difficult to say but I doubt Australia will win; it could go to South Africa, but I would put my money on a draw.