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COMMENT: Conrad will always challenge Proteas

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Shukri Conrad was inheriting a side that had just returned from three dismal Test tours that included an innings and 276 runs loss in New Zealand, before handing England the series despite winning the first Test at Lord’s and going on to cop a thrashing in Australia to conclude what was a tough year in whites for South Africa.

Shukri Conrad head coach of South Africa during 2023 1st Betway Test Match agaisnt the West Indies in February 2022 at Supersport Park. File Picture: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

Ongama Gcwabe

“I’M ALWAYS going to look to take the road less travelled. That’s where I’d like this side to go – to put them in places that are uncomfortable, challenge them in ways they might have not been challenged before and see how we come out on the other side.

“It’s the growth that I am looking for and I’ve got to be patient with it.”

These were Shukri Conrad’s words during his first series in charge of the Proteas’ Test squad.

They were encouraging words from a coach who was stepping into what looked like a confused team environment, with no clear identity. For the fans around the country, a change in coaching methods and philosophy brought relief and calm.

After all, Conrad was inheriting a side that had just returned from three dismal Test tours that included an innings and 276 runs loss in New Zealand, before handing England the series despite winning the first Test at Lord’s and going on to cop a thrashing in Australia to conclude what was a tough year in whites for South Africa.

The 56-year-old Conrad has now been at the helm for a year and during which time South Africa have won one series (versus West Indies), drawn one (v India) and lost one (v New Zealand).

Looking at the series’ results since he took over, the team is all even. However, South Africa are currently in seventh place on the ongoing World Test Championship (WTC) table and the second half of the championship is well and truly under way, with the final scheduled for 2025.

A deeper dive into the matters of the Test side shows that the batting has improved during Conrad’s first year in charge, with the successful return of Aiden Markram as an opener taking centre stage after the country had lost hope in the 29-year-old’s Test career.

Conrad brought him back into the side after he was shifted down the order to number 4 before being dropped in the third Test in England and also for the tour to Australia in the same year.

Markram returned with two centuries, including one in tough batting conditions against India last month.

The introduction of batters Tony de Zorzi and David Bedingham in the past 12 months has completely changed how the world views this Test side as the two younger batters have looked fearless in the middle, a complementary feat to a batting group that had seen more lows than highs before Conrad took over.

On the bowling front, the Proteas are in such a good position that they can now afford to start making player rotations without really compromising the quality of the attack and without worrying about losing matches.

As we always speak about resting Kagiso Rabada and Marco Jansen, who play across all formats, the likes of Nandre Burger and Gerald Coetzee will be capable replacements or rotations.

When Anrich Nortje returns from injury, Conrad will have a good headache, especially with senior Lungi Ngidi still in the mix.

Spinners Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer are the best we have and will be vital for South Africa with the tour of Bangladesh coming up later this year.

All in all, the Test side has come a long way to get to this stable, confident position, and with the next series being in the West Indies in August, it will be interesting to watch how this side will develop.

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