Proteas: Strong onus on ‘big 4’

2014-11-11 12:27
(File, Hashim Amla, GalloImages)

Cape Town – Usually it is a trusty “big five” ... but South Africa are now minus one of their key batting beasts for the duration of their one-day international series against Australia, starting on Friday with the first game of a Perth double-header (05:20 SA time).

The withdrawal earlier this week of JP Duminy with knee trouble, requiring him to fly home and be sidelined for several weeks, may even tilt the balance in what should be a closely-fought series marginally Australia’s way.

The enterprising little left-hander’s absence – he is also no slouch as an off-spin contributor -- certainly comes at an inconvenient time for the tourists given their current problems across both the ODI and Twenty20 formats with regard to their middle- and lower-order batting, one area of enduring concern as the weeks to the World Cup in February are gradually ticked off.

In short, the Proteas will put out four potentially devastating factors up front over the next fortnight or so, in the form of Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and captain AB de Villiers – three of them not employed in the 2-1 loss in the T20 phase of the trip.

Fortunately they are significantly proven characters in the 50-overs environment, and if the bulk of them are on song then South Africa should be able to post steely totals regardless of the various woes a bit below them in the order.

Expect coach Russell Domingo and those close to him to only remind the quartet of the extra pressure on them, sans Duminy, to not only post healthy tallies of runs but to aim to stick at the crease as resolutely as possible through the innings.

You are far more likely to get away with deficiencies lower in the line-up, of course, if at least one premier stroke-player can “bat through”, ensuring stability and productivity at one end of the crease, at the very least.

The ever-wily Aussies will be only too well aware that if they can make significant inroads into the SA batting early on, their foes may just labour to register even par scores at the particular venues.

That is because there are far more question marks than there are ticks, frankly, when you weigh up the Proteas’ batting mettle in that far from unimportant area between roughly Nos 5 and 8 in the order (every team pretty much carries an orthodox tail thereafter).

Is it the right thing, for instance, to lump greater responsibility on the struggling David Miller by promoting him from six to five?

Some enduring supporters of the big-hitting KwaZulu-Natalian insist he will best deliver on his potential by having that bit more time to play himself in before he takes up the expected boundary-clubbing charge towards the “death” overs.

That said, Miller has been empowered in that fashion before and not made best use of the opportunity, so it will also be tempting for the brains trust to not go that route, and perhaps instead give the similarly inconsistent – though in his defence much less experienced at this level – Rilee Rossouw a berth somewhere among the front five.

My gut feel is that South Africa will take this course, partly motivated by the need to try to compensate for the non-involvement of the 3,571-run Duminy by fielding someone who can at least be termed a specialist batsman.

Rossouw has been decidedly duck-prone in his first six ODIs – four of them! – and the notoriously sledge-happy Aussies may not be slow to remind him of that stat if he takes guard at the WACA on Friday and/or Sunday.

But he has also shown at different levels of the game, including for SA ‘A’, a relish for playing on quick, true Aussie tracks and in that regard Perth could be tailor-made to his brand of cricket.

The tall left-hander also played some absolutely sizzling strokes in that 78 he managed in the first T20 contest at Adelaide, so the hope will be that he can build on that during the ODIs.

Just how the Proteas’ middle-to-lower order will be structured depends on the type of attack they wish to field on any given day in the series, but you nevertheless find it hard to escape the likelihood that SA will be made or broken on the weight of runs they extract from their formidable batting front-liners against the Aussies.

Comfortingly, all of established heavyweights De Villiers, Amla and Du Plessis come off healthy contributions to the series win in New Zealand recently, whilst the 21-year-old De Kock enters this series off two brisk knocks of 40-something in the T20s and 80 not out in his last ODI at Hamilton.

Once again, the Proteas need normal service, or more, from the near-metronomic quartet.

If not, we may see the proverbial bad moon rise.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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