SA to sneak it - Rudolph
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Jacques Rudolph is better qualified than most to forecast the outcome of the imminent Test series between South Africa and England.
The Titans left-handed batsman has played 35 Tests for the Proteas, including every encounter on England’s last tour here in 2004/05, where Michael Vaughan’s team triumphed 2-1 and Rudolph struck a defiant 93 in the first innings of a lost South African cause in the first meeting at Port Elizabeth.
Since then, he has spent much of his time becoming extremely well-versed on the English game, having pledged allegiance to Yorkshire on a Kolpak deal in 2007 and being a prolific run-scorer and popular presence at Headingley.
Rumours persist that the 28-year-old, who considers himself a wiser, steelier cricketer now (he is the top Titans’ SuperSport Series scorer with 379 runs at 42.11), may attempt to resurrect his international career for his land of birth sooner rather than later.
This interview was conducted during the meeting between the Titans and Cape Cobras at Paarl a few days ago …
Sport24: How important will it be for South Africa to get onto the front foot in the opening Test at Centurion?
Rudolph: Obviously it’s important but much hinges on the selection of (Jacques) Kallis, what roles he will be able to play and the combination South Africa will field as a result of that. Personally I can’t see the Proteas going in with only five batsmen – I don’t think upfront in a series you want to take that kind of risk. England are a quality, competitive team who have come a long way over the last couple of months, although injury concerns around Anderson and Sidebottom might hinder their own performance a little bit.
Sport24: Based on your own experiences with the Titans, what are the characteristics of the SuperSport Park pitch this season?
Rudolph: We’ve only played the Dolphins there in a four-dayer. It’s been fairly flat. Six or seven years ago I remember it having more in the way of indifferent bounce; the cracks used to open quite widely. Against the Dolphins it was mostly flat but in saying that Johann Louw and Quinton Friend bowled unbelievably well and made scoring very difficult. It might take a bit of turn, but I can’t be sure what the characteristics will be over five days.
Sport24: If they are going to play six batsmen plus Mark Boucher, might South Africa risk leaving Paul Harris out – even if that would seem short-sighted -- and playing four seamers, while using JP Duminy for occasional off-spin?
Rudolph: I would want to have a specialist (spinner), I think. Possibly on day three and four you might get a bit of bounce and Harro is quite a tall guy who could become a factor. I know AB (de Villiers) doesn’t want to ‘keep but with Kallis perhaps out (him doing that job) could re-balance the side very well. You need the best possible balance at a given time. I can’t see them going into a first Test with Mark Boucher as high as six.
Sport24: But a mere three-man seam attack is surely not ideal, either?
Rudolph: For sure, but I still feel that plays second fiddle to the fact that you want to have six batsmen. You can try to make up overs using someone like a Duminy. It may be a slightly negative frame of mind but for us not to lose the first Test, considering the Kallis (likely no-bowling situation), we don’t want to take the gamble of being too light on batting. It’s tricky because you also don’t want to pick a team not to lose a game. But it shows how blessed we are to have a Kallis, so easily able to be your fourth seamer when fit.
Sport24: Did England surprise you with their ODIs triumph?
Rudolph: To be honest, I was quite surprised. We do need to remember there were two rained-out games, but still … it was a bit of an upset because I still believe Test cricket is more their forte. But having played in the County Championship for the past three years, I can tell you England have a lot of good cricketers around. They’re building a healthy depth in seam bowling. Someone like Onions has come onto the scene and (Tim) Bresnan, who I play with at Yorkshire, can’t even make the Test squad.
Sport24: England have balance issues of their own in a post-Flintoff landscape: which way do you think they will go for the first Test?
Rudolph: I’m not 100 percent sure. But my personal opinion, in playing against a guy like (wicketkeeper) Matt Prior, is that he could easily bat at six for them. If you then place Stuart Broad at seven and Swann at eight, you can field a well-stocked bowling line-up. Believe me, Broad is a serious batsman! More than people give him credit for. If I were England I would field all of Anderson, Sidebottom, Onions and Broad as seamers. There’s talk of Luke Wright coming in as a sort of all-rounder, but who would you rather face: Wright or Onions? I know I’d prefer Luke Wright, with the greatest respect to him …
Sport24: Can we nail you down for a prediction for the series?
Rudolph: The Centurion Test against England has a history of a lot of rain! If that’s not a rained-out game, I’d possibly go for South Africa edging it 2-1, but if not I’ll settle on a 1-1 draw. It’s going to be tight, especially after (England) won back the Ashes. Their batting is strong now, especially with Trotty coming in as well. It’s a genuinely evenly-balanced contest, the way things look going into the series.
Sport24: Do you personally feel as if you’re at a cricketing peak right now? That you’re a far more knowledgeable player than four or five years back?
Rudolph: When I got picked for South Africa for the first time I was 20. I hadn’t played a serious amount of first-class cricket. You don’t understand your game nearly as well. After three years with Yorkshire, I understand my game an awful lot more. It’s easier to deal with peaks and troughs. I’ve just a had few lowish innings for the Titans but I know a big one will come again. In the past it would be a downward spiral; I would keep analysing, keep “going technical” to try to improve things. Most batsmen come to their prime at 28, 29 or 30.