New Zealand in SA

Peek into SA’s batting future

2013-01-12 22:08
Jacques Kallis (Gallo)
Cape Town – For the time being, their great anchor batsman stays firmly and comfortingly in the Test mix.

But with Jacques Kallis now 37, and despite still playing with so much of the lustre of his prime, at least some element of future planning for a Proteas batting line-up without him will be quietly taking place: coach Gary Kirsten seems anything but a man without a vision.

At atmospheric St George’s Park on Saturday, South Africa posted a total of 500 or more for the 47th time in history, and 28th occasion in the post-isolation era in the second Test against the currently hapless New Zealand, who were then subjected to another crippling dose of assault and battery from the No 1-ranked team’s pace attack before the mercy of stumps.

VIDEO: Highlights South Africa v New Zealand: 2nd Test, day 2

Of course in modern times bulky score-sheets by Proteas batsmen have seldom been without notable input from Kallis.

So the more often they can achieve those without the veteran right-hander contributing – he was unusually sent packing for a single-figure score in this first innings – the better a sign it will be that they will stay hugely capable of “going big” once he has left a conspicuous gap in the order upon retirement.

On day two in Port Elizabeth, Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar, two considerably less experienced members of the impressively smooth-firing Test team, hearteningly emulated the more stalwart Hashim Amla’s achievement a day earlier in going to three figures.

Amla and centuries have been virtually synonymous over the past couple of years, so his own 19th career ton and fifth of his last eight Tests was anything but a surprise – especially against, with respect, a Black Caps attack that is a peashooter when compared with the Proteas’ advanced missile system.

In the case of Du Plessis, his 137 against New Zealand represented his best Test innings yet from a statistical point of view, even if for sheer value to the national cause it hardly holds water when weighed against that 466-minute debut vigil for 110 not out to defy Australia at Adelaide a few weeks ago and shift the balance of that series.

The Titans stroke-player, 28, has now amassed 445 runs from six Test knocks at 111.25 and although these are obviously early days for him at this level, excited thoughts that he could become some sort of “Mike Hussey” equivalent for the Proteas are reasonably understandable.

Hussey waited a patient 10 years or thereabouts on the first-class circuit and until age 30 to make his Test debut for the Aussies, before exploding into action and averaging a stellar 51.52 from 79 appearances before his very recent decision to quit.

Du Plessis, for his part, steadily sharpened his act over a period of around eight years in provincial -- and to some extent county -- cricket before his break into the five-day international arena, where he is rapidly making claims to stay.

If there was one doubtful link in the batting chain of the present Proteas XI, until Saturday, it was the No 7 slot where opinion has been both divided and spirited about who exactly should occupy it.

One lobby has advocated Thami Tsolekile getting further exposure as a Test wicketkeeper and lower-order batsman instead of AB de Villiers performing the dual role of batting and glovework, while another (not long ago I was leaning this way myself) has felt there is enough high-quality, specialist batting higher up the order to justify a bowling all-rounder type of player being accommodated.

Instead South Africa have persevered with Dean Elgar, the 25-year-old left-hander from the Knights who got a traumatic pair on debut in Perth.

And in the Friendly City, still in only his third game, the Welkom-born batsman bared his teeth extremely promisingly, courtesy of a maiden unbeaten century of his own.

De Villiers had enthused to Sport24, upon inquiry ahead of the prior Test at Newlands, that the squad “like to have him around” because they considered him a tenacious customer who would deliver before long – and he was proved correct in his forecast.

Showing a combination of patience and resourcefulness on a pitch that did require both characteristics, Elgar was given the luxury of an extension after tea (he had been stuck on 91 as that interval came) by Graeme Smith to complete the landmark, even as the captain was undoubtedly hungry to declare.

The collective delight on the balcony as he duly finished the task and then scuttled off to prepare for the ruthless onslaught in the field, certainly sent out a powerful message of vindication.

But back to Kallis thoughts: the master player has occupied the coveted No 4 position to an almost interrupted degree since December 2001, when he made the permanent switch from No 3 after some five or six formative Test career years in the latter slot.

Many South Africans who have followed cricket for several decades will fondly recall it as the “Pollock position” in the order, a salute to the legendary left-handed genius Graeme Pollock.

Kallis has been a stunningly worthy successor, if you like – though Daryll Cullinan, partly thwarted by isolation, also largely did it proud for several years – and sooner rather than later another candidate will have to be found to occupy that key rung on the batting ladder.

And suddenly the field of candidates looks both credible and widespread.

For one thing, it is possible in life after Kallis that Amla (who will also just be starting to get on a bit by then) may appreciate being taken just a little further away from exposure to the opening new ball, by dropping a notch from three to four, just as Kallis did some time back.

Bear in mind that Elgar remains primarily a top-order type of player, so if his own shares continue to rise, he may just be promoted to a much higher berth in the medium-term future, which could only aid Amla’s transfer to four should he fancy it.

Frankly, Du Plessis looks more than capable of clicking up a couple of slots himself, whilst I would argue that, once fit again in a few months, the now infinitely more mature JP Duminy also cannot be excluded as a “possible” for No 4, particularly if there is still a desire to suitably split right- and left-handers.

Hopefully he will still be around, but if we were to imagine, say, that Kallis was no longer in the picture next summer, the following South African Test top seven could still look seriously formidable, even if it would only allow for four specialist bowlers plus some part-time options: Smith, Petersen, Elgar, Amla, De Villiers (wkt), Du Plessis, Duminy.

Any special contrary views?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  nz in sa  |  jacques kallis  |  cricket
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