TELFORD VICE, Durban
TEST cricketers are as welcoming of a motivational quote as test cricket itself is unwelcoming of change. But sometimes those world collide.
Like they have done for SA at the start of a season which they will hope takes the still raw edge off their 2015-16 campaign, when they lost six of their eight tests.
The team that took SA to the top of the rankings in August 2012 has been decimated by retirement and injury. Consequently they have crashed to No. 7.
That change is required is a no-brainer. But how much and what type are less simple questions.
Do they need winds of change, or would a hurricane be better?
To help South Africans get their minds working in that direction, here comes that quote: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
That’s George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, who knew a thing or two about the human condition.
And the condition of the humans in the SA team that will take on New Zealand in the first test at Kingsmead today could use some analysis.
In fact, they had a decent stab at just that during a pre-series camp in Johannesburg.
“There was some really honest feedback on where we want to go as a team and perhaps where we’ve fallen short,” Faf du Plessis said yesterday.
“I feel a really good energy in our team. It feels like the guys are on a mission.
“Perhaps that was lacking for a while – a bit of direction – but I feel that’s back in place now.”
Graeme Smith, the captain who took SA to the top, steered his team in a direction that made them difficult to beat.
But they weren’t always enterprising and Du Plessis, who will captain SA against New Zealand in the absence of the injured AB de Villiers, hoped that would be part of the required change.
“Possibly we need to throw the first punch more, play a more aggressive brand of cricket,” Du Plessis, who will captain SA in the absence of the injured AB de Villiers, said.
“But aggression never means doing anything stupid – in test cricket the basics will always remain the most important thing.
“It’s more of a mindset to be a little bit more attacking.”
To that end SA will welcome back the experienced Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, who missed most of last season through injury.
“Both are fit and both will play,” Du Plessis said. “They’re massive bowlers for us, and we saw when they weren’t there against England (who beat SA 2-1 last season) you cannot replace an experienced attack.”
Kagiso Rabada is likely to be SA’s other fast bowler in an attack that should include off-spinner Dane Piedt.
But it seems the Kiwis still have plenty to think about.
“We’re going to have a look at the wicket, just to see if it dries out a little bit more, before we finalise our XI,” captain Kane Williamson said. “The choice is the extra spinner or an extra seamer.
“The wicket looks a bit tacky but the game goes for five days and there are a number of things to consider.”
Among those things is the suggestion that the pitch is sporting more grass than the outfield.
On yesterday’s evidence, the pitch was furry with flora while the outfield dared to be bare – or almost bare – in several patches.
The latter is a consequence of complications from decompaction, which was done to soften the outfield.
The workers dug too deep and the job was completed too late – on July 1 – to ensure full recovery in time for today’s match, a problem exacerbated by unseasonal rain that flooded the ground and inhibited the regrowth of grass.
Gone, it seems, are the days when batsman would navigate their way from Kingsmead’s boundary to the middle by the creases painted to demarcate a pitch that was as green as the outfield.
This time the pitch might just sport more grass than the outfield.