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
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
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
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
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
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?
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