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South Africa decline mirrors West Indies slide

It is sad to watch the accelerating and mostly self-inflicted decline of a once-great Test power.

The West Indies came and went from Australia this summer with barely a whimper.

The emergence of Tagnerine Chanderpaul, almost a mirror of his old man in style and temperament, was about the only saving grace.

Now South Africa appear to be on the same path to mediocrity and irrelevance.

The third Test at the SCG next week will be the last time in the next four years – and probably much longer - that the Proteas actually play a third Test.

They will only participate in two-Test series from now on, and none at home at the peak of summer.

That period will be given over to the IPL-owned SA20 which is about to take priority in South African cricket.

Nothing wrong with moving with the times by embracing the T20 format but it is a dangerous move to effectively abandon the longest form of the game.

Test cricket still has a substantial role to play as the foundation and pinnacle of the sport, as an inspiration to players and followers of the game and the sternest test of the mettle of all who visit.

Yet South Africa are only going through the motions this series and look to have already lost interest in competing in the five-day format.

Talent ebbs and flows, and it is certainly ebbing at the moment, but South African teams have always been notable for their grit and resilience.

In my time covering five South Africa Test tours to this country, there have been any number of stand-out moments and players – from Jacques Rudolph and Faf du Plessis batting through the final day to save Tests to the record 414-run chase at the WACA Ground to JP Duminy and Dale Steyn’s unbelievable tail-end stand at the MCG to Graeme Smith’s last-wicket bid to defy Mitch Johnson at the SCG – that spoke of South Africa’s guts.

They might not have been able to win big white-ball events but they found the formula to repeatedly match and beat the world’s best Test team at home.

Yet what have they now?

A team hollowed out by the country’s race-based quota system, an impost that might go some way to explaining Lungi Ngidi continued presence despite his obvious lack of condition, errant and brittle leadership, inexplicable selection decisions (Ryan Rickelton, with a first-class batting average of 53, was told an ankle injury made him unfit to tour Australia yet has scored four domestic centuries and a 99 in the past month), and such tepid body language that defeat seems inevitable.

It was not always so dire but it seems to be the way now. Hopefully predictions of South Africa’s demise prove to be exaggerated.

And another thing …

The appointment of former prime minister Kevin Rudd as ambassador to the US brought back stark memories of the 2008 Boxing Day Test.

Kevin07 had been elected a year earlier and was doing the rounds of the MCG media as most PMs do during the biggest Test of the summer.

South Africa Broadcasting Corporation were calling the Test series back to SA but only had Mluleki Ntsabo and Neil Manthorp as callers and relied on a handful of Australian journos to help them fill each day’s play.

Rudd was a guest on SABC immediately before my stint with Ntsabo and I started off with a comment that he might be a hard act to follow.

“Yes, it would be like batting after Don Bradman,” came a familiar voice from the back of the box.

It was only another 18 months or so before the nation’s most prominent ego was knifed by his own side.


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