Did playing on consistently difficult pitches at home sap South Africa’s top order of the confidence required to put Sri Lanka away? Coach Ottis Gibson, who has spearheaded the campaign to play on almost uniformly fast-and-bouncy pitches at home, thinks not.
South Africa have publicly acknowledged that their new philosophy, which enshrines fast bowling, has come at a cost for batsmen, who have largely seen their averages retreat over the past two home seasons. But so long as the team was winning, they were happy to cop the diminished returns.
But now, having made only 235, 259, 222 and 128 in the 2-0 defeat against Sri Lanka, the question is being asked, whether repeated bruising on pitches stacked against them, has led to a serious decline among South Africa’s batsmen.
“We got runs on those pitches over the last 18 months,” Gibson said. “Really when you look at it, we haven’t batted well [in this series], and there’s no hiding from that.
“If you look at Durban as a game – we bowled them out under 200, and then we had opportunities to bat them out of the game and we didn’t. Kusal Perera played an absolute blinder, and he was the difference in that match. Then, in Port Elizabeth, again we got bowled out for 220 on a good pitch. We bowled them out again for 150, so there’s another opportunity to bat them out of the game. We couldn’t do that, so that cost us.”
“There’s been a lot of talk about spicy wickets, and all we’ve ever asked for was pace and bounce. Ultimately, even if you have the best bowling attack in the world, you really need some runs to work with. Over the course of the two Tests we didn’t have that, and that perhaps was the deciding factor in deciding the series.”
Gibson also denied that South Africa had been complacent leading up to this series, contradicting the view of a member of his own coaching staff. After South Africa had collapsed to 128 on Friday, their batting coach Dale Benkenstein said – in no uncertain terms – that there had been some complacency from South Africa. Not true, said Gibson.
“I saw a headline that said we were complacent, and I don’t agree with that at all. We’ve prepared for this Test series exactly the way that we prepared for every other Test series. We have our meetings. We do our tactical stuff, video analysis and everything.
“Sri Lanka had a couple of new guys that we needed to get some intel on. We looked at that. They came here with very little to lose and played very well. Knowing what we wanted to achieve for the whole summer in terms of Test cricket, trying to win five Test matches, we just weren’t good enough in these two.”