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Proteas must keep up standards in second Test, says fielding coach

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Proteas fielding coach Justin Ontong says the team will have to maintain their standards in the field when they go into the second Test against the West Indies on Friday.

Proteas fielding coach Justin Ontong says the team will have to maintain their standards in the field when they go into the second Test against the West Indies on Friday
FILE – Proteas fielding coach Justin Ontong says the team will have to maintain their standards in the field when they go into the second Test against the West Indies on Friday. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – The Proteas are under pressure to maintain the fielding standards they set in the first Test as they seek to claim a series victory against the West Indies.

The South African team produced its best fielding performance for some time in the innings and 63-run victory at the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground last week. It was a far cry from some downright disastrous displays in Pakistan and a vast improvement on the generally sloppy efforts across all three formats seen from the Proteas in the last three years.

From being one of the most feared fielding outfits on the international circuit, and setting standards that others tried to emulate, South Africa found themselves out-fielded by Pakistan in the second Test in Rawalpindi earlier this year.

It needed a top to bottom reworking and rethinking among the coaching staff and players about how to make the team better in that key area. The Proteas fielding coach, Justin Ontong, understandably put the improvement down to hard work, but it also demanded a change in the players’ attitude.

Bowlers get criticised for not taking enough wickets, but if they are bowling deliveries that are finding edges, or forcing false strokes that are leading to balls being hit in the air to fielders and those fielders are dropping catches, it’s not fair to blame the bowlers.

The first Test may mark a turning point for South Africa’s fielding. “Test cricket is about taking 20 wickets and that means taking your catches,” Ontong said, following South Africa’s training session on Tuesday.

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As with the batting, the retirement of some experienced, older pros has impacted the fielding too, most notably in the slip cordon.

“Our personnel changed quite a bit. We’ve lost Faf (du Plessis) and Hashim (Amla) and they played a huge part for us in the slips. We had to make some changes. We’ve got a couple of young faces in there now, we worked quite hard with them and the slip catching in the first Test was outstanding,” Ontong explained.

Skipper Dean Elgar, who’d usually fielded at either third slip or at gully when Du Plessis and Amla were still playing, shifted to first slip in St Lucia, while Aiden Markram and Wiaan Mulder went to second and third slip respectively. “They were exceptional. You need your two best catchers at second and third slip,” Ontong remarked.

That pair hung onto six catches between them with Mulder taking two stunners; in the first innings diving, forward to his left to get rid of Joshua da Silva and in the second, also to his left to remove Kyle Mayers.

South Africa dropped just one catch in the first Test – debutant Kyle Verrynne, standing at deep short leg missing Roston Chase late on the second afternoon – but other than that it was a flawless display, with the ground fielding helped by a lush outfield, which slowed the ball.

Important for the Proteas is to maintain the standards set in that first match. “

“It was a big relief,” said Ontong.”We’ve taken some criticism and from a coach’s perspective, it was good to see the guys put in those performances, all credit to them for the world class standards they want to set. For me it’s about pushing standards and benchmarks further, and that we don’t get complacent.”

The second Test starts on Friday.

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