Proteas coach Gary Kirsten would be hesitant to criticise his charges after losing the second Test on Monday to Australia after twice being in a commanding position.
Australia bounced back to win the second Test by a slender two wickets and level the series 1-1 after a dismal showing at Newlands two weeks ago.
“It was one of those series where both sides let it slip and then pulled it back brilliantly,” said Kirsten, who took over as director of coaching in August. “There were times when we could have kept up our concentration levels for longer periods and capitalised on a really good position, but the Aussies had situations like that as well.”
With both sides constantly trying to gain an advantage, Kirsten said it made for a great series and a very competitive one.
“I’m generally happy with the way things went,” he said. “They gave 100% and, from a coaching perspective, that’s all I ever ask for and I think it was a fantastic Test series.”
South Africans Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir made their Test debuts in the series, while Jacques Rudolph made a welcome return to Test cricket after an absence of five years.
Philander was particularly impressive, taking a five-wicket haul in each of the two Tests.
His five for 15 in Australia’s bizarre 46-all-out innings at Newlands was matched by his five for 70 at the Wanderers on Monday.
“Vernon has been the standout bowler,” Kirsten said. “He has served his time at first-class level and he has come in and delivered the goods.”
Tahir did not fare as well in the wicket-taking department, taking three in the first innings and only one in the second, but it was a big wicket for South Africa when he dismissed Usman Khawaja (65) at a time when the Pakistan-born batsman was heading for his maiden Test century.
“Imran definitely got something going that we can all be excited by and he will continue to develop and grow as a Test match cricketer,” said the coach. “We all know how different it is coming from first-class level into the international arena because the mental demands are so much bigger.”
Kirsten said expectations were much higher at the top level and it was important for the newcomers to be given a good run to prove themselves.
“We all expect big performances from them, but sometimes it doesn’t happen straight away … They’re all good enough cricketers and they need to know that they’re not being watched every minute of the day and that after two bad performances they’re out … I don’t think that’s a healthy environment and we need to let them settle in — some guys it will take longer than others.”
When he took over as coach, Kirsten said he was worried about the depth at domestic level but he was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of talent waiting in the wings.
“The fast-bowling reserves are quite exciting and there are three or four of them who could be knocking on the door,” he said. “It’s very healthy for South African cricket that we have competitiveness with both bat and ball.”
South Africa host Sri Lanka in December with the first Test starting in Centurion on December 15.
While it is good news for the domestic franchises to have their international players back for the one-day competition, no further four or five-day cricket will be played before the tour commences.
“I’ve thought of a whole lot of different ways to make sure these guys have got some game time because we’ll have some guys who won’t have played any cricket for three weeks … There’s not a whole lot I can do about it. It’s not ideal, but we’ve got to manage what is dished out at us.” — Sapa