Sat, 30 May 2020

Proteas can't blame Durban for shocking Test loss

18 Feb 2019, 15:37 GMT+10

Durban - South Africa's recent record at Kingsmead is awful.

The Proteas have won just one of their last nine Test matches in Durban dating back to 2009.

In the first Test against Sri Lanka, the hosts finally looked set to put an end to that hoodoo, yet they somehow found a way to lose as Kusal Perera's ridiculous 153* that included a 78*-run stand for the 10th wicket saw the visitors over the line.

It will go down as one of the greatest Test run chases of all time given the circumstances.

Not only was Perera's match-winning partnership with Vishwa Fernando the highest-ever 10th wicket partnership in a successful Test run chase, but Sri Lanka were given no realistic chance of upsetting the Proteas when they arrived in the country.

Administrative disarray, player revolt and being at the centre of a match fixing investigation have been some of the major issues plaguing Sri Lankan cricket recently, but on Saturday none of that mattered.

Addressing media after the match, Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis was understandably in a state of shock having just experienced what is most probably the lowest point of his captaincy so far.

The skipper said that it would take a while to understand exactly what more his side could have done to get over the line in the contest, but one thing he did point to was the nature of the Durban wicket.

Never one to make excuses, Du Plessis knows that the Proteas should be good enough to beat Sri Lanka at any of their home Test venues.

But given the spicy nature of the wickets that have been prepared in South Africa over the last 18 months, it was clear that Du Plessis was not overly satisfied with what was dished up in Durban.

"The last conditions you want to play Sri Lanka on would be something like that," he said after the match.

"It was very slow and perfectly set up for them to start their tour in South Africa.

"Their spinner (Lasith Embuldeniya) took a five-for and Duanne (Olivier) wasn't as effective because the ball was stopping on a slow pitch.

"We've got a terrible record here. We played Pakistan in Joburg, Pretoria and Cape Town which are all the right places where you want to play sub-continent teams.

"But then what happens is you have to take Test cricket all around the country and what's left is the two slower pitches (Durban and Port Elizabeth).

"In a perfect world you would want to split it up a bit, but we still have to be a team that is adaptable enough to beat a team like Sri Lanka in our home conditions, even if we're playing on a piece of pudding.

"We can't point any figures. We'll look at the areas where we need to improve."

While Durban may not have given the Proteas seamers the pace and bounce the brains trust was hoping for, it also provided arguably the best contest between bat and ball that these parts have seen for some time.

There were runs on offer for those prepared to roll up their sleeves, while both Olivier and Dale Steyn said during the Test match that they had to work hard for their wickets.

That is the way the way it should be.

"Taking five-fors in Test cricket is not supposed to be easy," as Steyn said after day two.

Du Plessis and South Africa cannot always bank on using conditions to blast out visiting teams. They must be more flexible than that.

The weather and the poor crowds in Durban have also contributed to the venue copping some hard flack.

Fortunately, the weather played its part this week and there were some glorious sessions along the way.

The crowd, unfortunately, was not great.

It didn't help that the match started on a Wednesday when most were at work and school after a long festive season, but even on Friday and Saturday the takings at the turnstiles were modest to say the least.

That is not to say that those who did turn up on Saturday were not vocal.

When the Proteas were puzzling their way through that last partnership, they had the support of what had turned into a passionate and desperate Kingsmead support base.

It may not have been day one of a New Year's Test in Cape Town, but it was more than enough to pick up the Proteas when things reached their toughest.

There is always the feeling that the Proteas do not enjoy playing in Durban, and with their record here that should not come as a surprise.

It is perhaps time, though, for a change of mindset from all of us.

Durban this week dished up a Test match of the highest quality and one that the cricketing world will remember forever, and much of that was down to a wicket that deserves praise and nothing else.

South Africa are in Port Elizabeth next week where they will look to salvage something from this series while their next Test assignment after that is a three-match series in India in October.

If Durban was too slow for the Proteas, then something needs to change very quickly because things will not get any better.

There are many, many reasons that South Africa came out on the wrong side of this result, but Kingsmead is not one of them.

Follow @LloydBurnard ...

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