Australia in SA
Johnson to force SA rethink
Mitchell Johnson (AP Photo)
Centurion - Brutalised by Mitchell Johnson, a fast bowler right on top of his game and often operating at blinding speed, South Africa may be forced into a significant tactical alteration to their side for the second Test against Australia in Port Elizabeth.AS IT HAPPENED: SA v Australia - Day 4
The most obvious area the team’s brains trust will need to address urgently is the batting line-up, a department that was so awfully brittle - the admirable AB de Villiers apart - in the 281-run rout at SuperSport Park here on Saturday.
Tough and capable cricketer though Ryan McLaren is - and he had a few promising bowling moments in the otherwise violently one-sided first Test - the Proteas sacrificed plenty in the batting department when they effectively replaced retired versatile top-order great Jacques Kallis (13,289 Test runs at 55.37) with much more of a bowling all-rounder in the shape of the now two-cap Knights player.
It was a major statement of confidence in the ability of the remaining batsmen in the side, given that South Africa were henceforth going to go one specialist willow-wielder light and cause promotions up the order for men like Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy.
Du Plessis got out twice in the current Test to deliveries he could do very little about, so deserves further opportunities to see whether he can settle into the crucial No 4 spot vacated after so many years by Kallis.
But Duminy is becoming a bit of a problem, especially since the abandonment of the “seven batsmen” formula which means he is intended to prosper more regularly now at No 6.
The snag is that the little left-hander is hardly glued into his Test spot: he has managed a top score of only 28 in his last seven knocks in the arena, and his average after 22 Tests is a less than enthralling 31.82.
It is just the sort of ammunition - as if they really needed any more - to have the cock-a-hoop Aussies believing they’ve got South Africa’s number in the batting department: even a proven, gnarly figure like Hashim Amla is not exactly in vintage touch this season so it is increasing the collective pressure.
Compounding the insecurity is that right at the top of the order, Alviro Petersen continues to flirt with the axe.
He is the sort of player with a knack of suddenly coming off just when his place is in jeopardy, and it has to be remembered that he had a decent last series against India very recently, with scores of 21 and 76 at the Wanderers and 62 and 31 not out at Kingsmead.
But he was dismissed a little limply by the lethal Johnson each time for scores of two and one here, and his own average after 29 Tests has dipped to 37.30 - not quite the stuff expected, perhaps, of an opener for the world’s still No 1-ranked outfit.
Frankly, it seems a no-brainer to me that the Proteas simply have to shore up their batting for St George’s Park, such has been the impact made by the left-arm thunderbolt Johnson (match figures of 12-127 at SuperSport Park and some fearful head and bodily strikes too).
If it means they have to play seven out-and-out batsmen and then decide who their most suitable four bowlers are for the PE task (plus the fifth, slightly part-time element of Duminy’s off-spin), then so be it.
The pitch in the Friendly City may be flatter, but it is also not averse to exhibiting uneven bounce as games wear on, so that should stay right up Johnson’s alley.
A complicating issue, admittedly, is that the current spare batsman and next in line in the greater Proteas squad, Dean Elgar, is not in best nick himself.
He was also not freed up to get some runs under his belt in the latest round of Sunfoil Series matches, so there may be some cobwebs.
The gritty left-hander deserves further opportunities, I believe, but it is no comfort that in his last game against the Aussies - his debut in Perth in late 2012 - he got a pair in what was otherwise a memorable series-clinching triumph for South Africa.
Can you imagine how the Australians would get in his ear if he takes guard at St George’s Park.
Names like Quinton de Kock and Stiaan van Zyl must be closer and closer to discussion among the wise men for the Test mix ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing