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Shukri Conrad on South Africa’s big defeat vs NZ – ‘A jolt and a wake-up call’

South Africa’s Test players in New Zealand feel like “Burnley going to Anfield every week” according to coach Shukri Conrad, who called their 281-run defeat in the first match a “jolt and a wake-up call.”

While Conrad has known for seven months that he would not have a full-strength squad for the series because of player obligations to the SA20 and prepared accordingly, the gulf between his side and New Zealand’s seems to have hit home in Mount Maunganui after South Africa were completely outplayed in all areas and lost in four days.

“It’s not okay. It’s tough for everyone here. It’s like Burnley going to Anfield every week,” Conrad said. “If it was a T20, you know one performance can win the game. [In Tests] it’s five days of relentless effort and pressure. You’ve got to be on top of your game all the time against a quality side like New Zealand.”

Conrad described the players, six of whom were on debut in the first Test, to be “in decent spirits,” but admitted they have been made to confront the quality of their own abilities. “A few of them would have taken a knock in terms of the harsh realities that Test cricket brings, and possibly how far away they still are. Many feel that they’re closer to the Test side than they currently are,” he said. “You go through a few days like they have been through, and that’s a jolt and a wake-up call.”

He was particularly critical of two aspects of the team’s game: fielding and batting. South Africa dropped both Kane Williamson and Rachin Ravindra in the first innings which proved extremely costly. The pair shared a stand of 232, Williamson went on to score 118, Ravindra piled on 240 and South Africa conceded 511 in total.

“If we took our chances on day one … you know you’re going to have to live on the breadcrumbs. Every now and again, when a slice comes around, you’ve got to grab it with both hands. And we didn’t. That first day could have been different. And then if we batted properly…”

Only David Bedingham scored a half-century for South Africa in the Test match, while Keegan Petersen and Zubayr Hamza failed to convert starts. Those three were the batters who had played Tests before the New Zealand tour, and Conrad said he expected more from them given the inexperience through the rest of the rank.

“Pressure does a hell of a lot of things to you,” he said. “Often guys come to this level and feel silver bullets need to be landing from all over. In fact all you do is simplify matters. It’s easy to say go out and back yourself but when your every move is magnified and your technique is being cut to shreds on TV and elsewhere, that’s what the harsh reality of Test cricket is. This is what players are going to have to deal with.”

“A few of them would have taken a knock in terms of the harsh realities that Test cricket brings, and possibly how far away they still are. Many feel that they’re closer to the Test side than they currently are.”

South Africa head coach Shukri Conrad

Asked if the batting performance, specifically, was an indictment on South Africa’s first-class system, Conrad said: “When Tony de Zorzi walked in to make his debut, he walked in after Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar,” he said. “Then Temba Bavuma walked in at No. 4. There was lots of experience at Test level.

“If he had walked out to bat for the first time the other day, he would have walked out with somebody who was also making his debut, and at three was also someone making his debut. All of these guys are inexperienced at this level. They’ve got heaps of first-class experience but they don’t have any Test experience, and there’s a massive gap anywhere in the world, not only in South Africa.”

The current South African squad averages 96 first-class caps per player, which speaks to Conrad’s point that there is a level of know-how in the squad. But it seems that their initial hopes of emulating the women’s team – who won a T20I and an ODI against Australia for the first time on their current tour – were setting the bar a bit too high.

“Every time you play in a Test there’s an expectation that, even though maybe you can’t do all the swimming strokes, perhaps you can doggy paddle for a reasonable time and not drown,” Conrad said. “Yes, they’ve been thrown in the deep end. But it’s a great opportunity for the players to put their hands up and, as a group, to go back to the first-class system and spread the gospel in terms of what the requirements are and what their experiences were. Hopefully in that way we can uplift the standard and not create expectation at every turn when someone gets a five-wicket haul or scores a hundred at domestic level. But, yes, it is a sink or swim situation.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent for South Africa and women’s cricket

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