5 Changes South Africa Can Make to Beat Australia in 2nd Test
South Africa find themselves 1-0 down against Australia in a three-match Test series. With just a few days to prepare before the second Test begins in Port Elizabeth, there's not much time to tinker with the composition of the side.
Mitchell Johnson has the ability to make extraordinary players look ordinary. For the merely ordinary players around world cricket, this is becoming a problem. South Africa does possess a big chunk of extraordinary talent but never before have their weak links been so exposed.
A complete overhaul of the team would be foolish and unsettling, but there are a few players who now have to prove themselves. Major changes are unlikely for the second Test, but one or two tweaks won't be the worst solution. It can't get worse than a 281-run defeat, right?
Stats and data via ESPN Cricinfo
The Problem with Alviro Petersen
Alviro Petersen has not scored a hundred for over a year. In his last 15 innings, he averages just over 23.00. For an opener, that's a pretty poor run. The shot which got him out in the first innings against Australia was rash and unnecessary.
The openers should be able to fend off the new ball and ride out the initial storm. Petersen's shot selection in the first innings put more pressure on guys like Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis. Although he got out to a really good delivery in the second dig, whether Petersen still has the mettle to be a Test opener is questionable.
What the selectors probably should do: Drop Petersen and give Dean Elgar a chance to open. Elgar's ability to play Test cricket is yet to be proven, but he can't be much worse than Petersen on current form.
What the selectors probably will do: Stick with Petersen. Such a change might be too harsh and unsettling at this stage of the tour.
The Need for a Frontline Spinner
South Africa doesn't really have a frontline spinner and conditions in South Africa have never really suited spinners.
Port Elizabeth's track does tend have a bit more on offer in it for the twirlers but whether Peterson can really fill that spinner's role is a question that still needs to be answered.
There's one youngster and fiercely competitive cricketer who has been edging on the fringes for some time. His name is Simon Harmer.
He's played 47 first-class games and picked up 178 wickets. Although those scalps have come at a slightly high average of 32.77, it's Harmer's doggedness which gives him an edge.
Harmer, now 25, has been using that competitive spirit and tenacity to make improvements to his game of late. South Africa's director of the high performance programme, Vincent Barnes, told ESPN Cricinfo last year that Harmer had been making strides and would be working with a specialist spin coach.
A spinner will be needed in Port Elizabeth and although Peterson was unconvincing in the first match, he will most likely retain his place in the side.
Harmer is part of the extended South African squad and trained with them in the lead up to the first Test. However, baptism by Australia isn't always the best way to introduce a young spinner to Test cricket.
What the selectors probably should do: Drop Peterson and bring in Simon Harmer.
What the selectors probably will do: Persist with Robin Peterson.
Ryan McLaren and JP Duminy Should Raise a Few Eyebrows
JP Duminy averages a touch over 16.00 in his last eight innings while Ryan McLaren's return to Test cricket was forgettable.
As it stands, the only player in the squad who could possibly replace Duminy is Dean Elgar.
Elgar himself, though, hasn't proven himself as a Test cricketer just yet—besides, he might be required at the top of the order if the selectors decide to look at dropping Alviro Petersen.
Duminy faces a crucial two Tests, he needs to prove that he still has that doggedness which made him a superstar on debut against Australia.
McLaren, meanwhile, has no X-Factor. He does have a superb work ethic, but he doesn't bring anything different to the team.
Parnell is a left-armer who can bowl with venom. Although he might lack control on occasion and concede easy runs, he has the ability to take wickets with pace and accuracy and seems to thrive when given responsibility.
Although the first Test was the perfect outing for Australia, it wouldn't harm South Africa too much to consider Parnell as an option for the second Test, if for no other reason than simply seeing what he has to offer.
What the selectors probably should do: Bring in Wayne Parnell for Ryan McLaren, stick with JP Duminy for now.
What the selectors probably will do: Try out Wayne Parnell.
Is Quinton De Kock the Answer?
Quinton de Kock was on a hot streak in one-day cricket before the South African Test squad for India was announced. Many felt that De Kock should get the nod and slot into the team ahead of somebody like JP Duminy or even Alviro Petersen.
It's not the worst call, but De Kock, remember, has played just 20 first-class games.
He has played just two first-class games this season and he has managed only 11 runs. Those runs came against bowlers who aren't even remotely as ferocious as Mitchell Johnson.
Yes, De Kock is a talented player and his time will come. Yes, he was on a hot streak and sometimes it's worth taking a punt. Despite all this, he's probably not quite ready for Test cricket yet.
What the selectors probably should do: Get Quinton de Kock a contract with a county team and post him off to England for the South African winter for some much-needed experience.
What the selectors probably will do: Probably exactly what they should.
The Slow Start Problem
South Africa's Test team have been prone to slow starts for a while and they have always managed to bounce back somehow.
This time feels a little bit different, though.
Although the conditions in the first Test suited Mitchell Johnson perfectly, he is in the form of his life. The track in Port Elizabeth should be somewhat slower and flatter than the Centurion pitch, but South Africa still need to find a way to neutralise Australia's trump card.
The Proteas have done it before and they have had success against Johnson before. Keeping calm in the first 10-20 overs is absolutely crucial. Once Johnson gets into a batsman's head and bogs him down, things can get pretty tough.
In a press conference I attended during the Test, AB de Villiers said one of the keys to surviving Johnson is to "not be afraid to get hurt".
There will be less bounce at Centurion so the risk of constantly getting hurt certainly will be minimised and perhaps this will soothe some of South Africa's panic and help their tentativeness just a little.
It really is that simple: Take a few blows on the body, duck the bouncers, punish the bad balls and just stay calm. There hasn't even been much sledging from either side so it's all about sticking to the basics for South Africa.
Although Graeme Smith denied it in his post-match press conference, there will almost certainly be some kind of mental scarring. This Test team has shown time and time again that they do have the toughness to overcome such challenges, but this is by far the biggest gauntlet they have faced in the last five years.
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