Australia in SA

AB easing Proteas’ Test pickle

2011-11-01 11:35
AB de Villiers (Gallo)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - The pegs seem to be starting to fit into the holes as South Africa prepare for the first Test against Australia at Newlands here from next Wednesday.

All the current smoke signals from the Proteas camp appear to suggest that – unless there are sudden favourable developments -- staple middle-order batting kingpin AB de Villiers is fighting an uphill battle to be fit for the mini-series opener, and instead more realistically targeting the second encounter at the Wanderers.

And under those circumstances, given the fairly bowler-heavy composition of the 14-man South African squad, the batting line-up for the first Test is pretty obvious, considering that there is no way they will enter the Test with wicketkeeper Mark Boucher batting any higher than his trademark No 7 in the five-day format.

Thus, with all available batting resources in the party taken into account, the top six will look like this: Graeme Smith (capt), Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince and JP Duminy.

Whcih way around Prince and Duminy bat may depend on the extent and tempo of the platform laid by the men above them, as Prince has a reputation as a slightly more grafting customer than his fellow left-hander and is likelier to be more assured of No 5 (a favoured and traditionally successful position for him) if there is some element of consolidation required when he takes guard.

As many as nine of the 34-year-old’s 11 Test centuries have come from the five berth, which ought to be enough to earn him the nod there.

Duminy, however, may well be a better bet to bat one rung lower than No 4 anchorman Kallis if there is already the luxury of a blossoming score on the board and getting a “crack on” is the greater priority at the time.

Whatever the case, the match may well serve as a shoot-out between these two for who retains a place at the Bullring if De Villiers returns to the mix then.

The make-up of the four-man specialist attack, under the assumption that Kallis will be the occasional but still important fifth bowling option, is a little more tricky to predict.

South Africa traditionally take conservative options with greater zeal – rightly or wrongly – so it may not be quite the fait accompli many people think it is for the Proteas to prefer attacking leg-spinner Imran Tahir to the left-arm “strangler” Paul Harris.

My own wish, most certainly, is that Tahir gets a Test debut at a venue which should suit his craft, although that ever-determined customer Harris, who knows his limitations and doggedly grapples them, still has a Test future – especially on the Subcontinent, where he could be an appropriate, containing foil for someone like Tahir if the Lahore-born leggie does shine as a Test player and conditions warrant the presence of two specialist slow bowlers.

For the looming Newlands Test, I rather like the idea of the Proteas fielding Tahir as a further strike option to Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, with one of Lonwabo Tsotsobe or Vernon Philander then to be the busily-engaged “stock” seamer, Kallis to help out at times and Duminy to turn a few balls the other way to Tahir if necessary.

Harris has picked up some decent hauls at Newlands in the past, especially when the south-easter has been around to give him some drift, although early summer has been marked here thus far by surprisingly low doses of the whistling Cape Doctor.

Counting against him, I feel, was his ineffectiveness as a wicket-taker when the Proteas could not win the last Test they played, at the very same venue against India last season: the visitors easily held out for a draw and 1-1 share of the series batting last, when Harris bowled 30 overs for only 29 runs but could not get a single success in the wickets column.

His match haul was one for 101 in 59 slightly “nod off” overs ... dare South Africa risk such a negative repeat against the Aussies?

The Philander v Tsotsobe poser is a neck-and-neck one: the latter is the Test incumbent, and offers much-trumpeted left-arm variety even if not at blistering pace, while the former has been a really standout SuperSport Series seamer for two or three seasons and would offer the iffy Proteas tail slightly less of a “bunny” look to it if he occupied No 8 behind Boucher rather than Steyn, who could then use the long handle under a bit less pressure at nine. 

 My personal choice leans fractionally toward Philander as first-change on his home ground – how he fares in the current match between SA ‘A’ and the Aussies at Potchefstroom could affect selection -- although I have a feeling the Proteas’ wise men are going to do the “continuity” thing and retain faith for the time being in the lanky Tsotsobe.

The XI would then probably look like this next Wednesday morning: Smith (c), Rudolph, Amla, Kallis, Prince, Duminy, Boucher, Steyn, Morkel, Tsotsobe, Tahir.

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