Neil McKenzie, South Africa's batting consultant, has called on his line-up to develop "thick skins" and concentrate on rotating strike on the Providence pitch ahead of their second match in the triangular series. South Africa take on Australia on Tuesday, four days after losing their opener to the hosts West Indies. On the evidence of how Australia brought West Indies back to down earth on Sunday, South Africa will need to put more runs on the board than the 188 they posted on Friday.
"It comes down to having a thick skin when you are batting. It might mean soaking up a few balls but trusting you technique and your game plan to get you out and get you to a decent strike rate," McKenzie said. "We will be looking to try and rotate the strike a little bit more, hit with the spin, utilise the space and run hard because boundaries aren't that easy to come by."
South Africa scored at a fraction over four runs to the over in their first match, even though they had raced to 47 runs in the first eight overs. They did not manage a single six in their innings - while Kieron Pollard hit six - and only found the boundary nine times. Although more than half their runs (99) came in singles they also faced 152 dot balls as they struggled to get the West Indies spinners away.
On a surface Rilee Rossouw, South Africa's top-scorer from the first match, described as "a bit subcontinental" and which Australia captain Steven Smith thinks may be best to bat first on, McKenzie has cautioned against going too hard, too early. Instead, he advocated a conservative start, much like what South Africa had after 35 overs when they were meandering at 159 for 3, and a late assault.
"It's easier to set a platform and really hit at the death, going for your big shots later on rather than upfront," McKenzie said. "The skilled shots over cover or midwicket are not that easy on a deck where its really slow and there is some purchase. You've got to try and find your ones; make sure you can get to the other side. You've got to take calculated risks at certain times but it all comes down to rotating your strike."
McKenzie has also advised trying to take on the seamers, if possible, to make the task a little easier when the spinners are brought on. "If you've taken the seamers for quite a few runs, the pressure is off you when face the spin," he said. "It's going to be another grind on Tuesday and boys are looking forward to it."
They are most looking forward to showing that they have been able to adapt to conditions on which they have often been undone. Following their disastrous Test tour of India last November and struggles at the World T20, South Africa's reputation of being soft was reinforced by defeat on Friday but Rossouw is confident they can prove they have moved past that. "We've got a fairly good idea what's happening now. We know what to expect," he said.
With the attention focused on South Africa's batting, their attack has escaped scrutiny, even for the purpose of praising it. The three-seamer, two-spinner pack performed admirably, even without much to defend, and swapped roles seamlessly. Unlike the traditional South African strength of attacking with quicks and holding with spinners, the pacemen held their ends to allow the spinners to take wickets.
Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris all went for less than four runs an over while Imran Tahir, Aaron Phangiso and JP Duminy claimed the six wickets that fell. That may leave no room for Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell or Tabraiz Shamsi just yet but McKenzie is not complaining.
"Kyle Abbott and KG started really well, hit some great areas and asked a lot of questions upfront," McKenzie said. "The seamers will be the ones that will keep it a bit tighter. They won't get the wicket count that you normally get in Australia or South Africa but they are vitally important. They've got to hit off stump, be wicket to wicket, not give any width on these types of wickets and force the batters hand to try and come after the spinners."
(Published in espncricinfo.com)