Shukri Conrad says Proteas ‘ain’t going to win too many Tests scoring 55’

Shukri Conrad head coach of South Africa during 2023 1st Betway Test Match match between South Africa and West Indies on 28 February 2022 at SuperSport Park in Centurion

Proteas coach Shukri Conrad acknowledged that it would have been highly unlikely for his team to win the Test match, after being bundled out for 55 batting first in the second Test at Newlands on Wednesday. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

Published Jan 5, 2024


It is a matter of perspective. Had it been offered a fortnight ago that the Proteas would square the series with World No 1 side India, they would have taken it without hesitation.

But that would not have taken into account the home team managing just 55 in the first innings before succumbing in just one and half days on Thursday - playing a large role in the 2024 Newlands New Year Test becoming the shortest ever in terms of balls (642) in the history of the game - which allowed India to win their first Test under the watch of Table Mountain.

“You ain’t going to win too many Tests scoring 55.  We have to own it and we do,” Proteas coach Shukri Conrad said.

“This has come as a shock to the system, but I won’t lay the blame entirely at the doorstep of your playing XI or the makeup of our tactics.

‘Start thinking like champions’

“We have to start thinking like champions and it came as no surprise that when we went 1-0 up at Centurion, I wasn’t taking 1-1. But we came up against a red-hot India and of course the conditions.”

The “conditions” have certainly been the focus point this week in Cape Town. To be more specific, the 22 yards of turf prepared by head curator Braam Mong.

Conrad was hesitant to single Mong out for criticism, stating “He’s a good guy. And sometimes good guys do bad things or get it wrong”, but was explicit in his feelings that the Newlands surface did not resemble anything he previously encountered before.

“I thought I knew (Newlands) very well. That was completely out of character. You gather all the information, either through your experience having coached here or players having played here, and stack up accordingly and then everything goes out the window when you encounter a surface like this,” he said.

“You only need to look at the scores, one and a half days and the way they chased a little target of 80, and it's a sad state when you need more luck than skill to survive in a Test match. All the ethics and values of Test cricket go out the window and this was just a slugfest and a slogathon, whoever was luckier…”

In between the flurry of wickets - 33 in five sessions - that fell at Newlands, Proteas opener Aiden Markram also delivered one of the finest Test centuries in the most extreme conditions.

Markram struck 106 off only 102 balls, which accounted for 60% of his team’s second innings 176. The next best was the retiring Dean Elgar’s 12.

It showed that runs could be scored on the explosive surface, but only if a batter was willing to play the numbers game in determining which balls to attack.

‘Aiden was phenomenal’

“Often the surface you play on makes you doubt your technique and how you approach the game and that is what I felt was the case from the first couple of overs in the match,” Conrad said.

“Aiden was phenomenal; yes, he left certain balls and he chanced his arm. He hit quite a few sixes which is not normally par for the course in Test cricket. We want to get away from the phrase ‘there is a ball with your name on it.’ But on this wicket, you actually felt there was a ball with your name on it and that often forces you to play in a certain way, which is what he did.”

The South African international summer has come to a spectacularly abrupt end, although Conrad still has the challenge of taking a severely understrength team to New Zealand for a two-match series next month.

But despite not claiming the ultimate prize of toppling the World’s No 1 team, he still feels that his young and inexperienced team that blooded three debutants, which included batter Tristan Stubbs here, over the past two matches are making significant progress.

“I had so much pleasure in announcing that Stubbo was debuting and then I apologised to him for giving him a debut on a wicket like this. The message is that it is not going to get any more difficult than this, whether in the subcontinent and it spins and you know what you are in for and prepare accordingly.

“That’s all we as coaches and players want - when you know you have a reasonable idea of what to expect you can prepare accordingly . This was nowhere near any of that. The young players will take heart from the fact that they have taken part in what has always been an iconic Test match, against one of the top teams in the world in a series in which we were 1-0 up, and then we got beat.”