Cape Town – When it ruled the world, the South African Test
cricket team was often a healthily closed shop.
Now that it rather emphatically doesn’t, I suggest instead declaring
open season ... at least for the next few days.
The opportunity, if that is the right word to use, of a
dead-rubber closing fixture against England is not one to pass up, by my book;
experimentation should be a pretty strong theme at SuperSport Park from Friday.
A side looking increasingly stale and listless, and with
several incumbents probably still feeling the effects of the lengthy prior
ordeal in India, could do with some serious pepping-up in personnel,
simultaneously offering the selectors extra pointers for the tricky rebuilding
job required in the months or couple of years ahead.
Batting-wise, I wouldn’t stop at just installing debutant Stephen
Cook as Dean Elgar’s opening partner in place of the makeshift, low-producing
Stiaan van Zyl; the chance should also be taken amongst the top six to gauge
whether that booming striker Rilee Rossouw can transfer the skills he has
already demonstrated at limited-overs international level to the Test
He has waited in line for quite some time, and if the
Proteas are to put a necessarily rapid stop to their recent habit of
collectively crumpling at the crease like a paper plate in a roaring fire, it
is well worth freshening the mix with more than one person not yet caught in
any of those disconcerting spirals.
I would love to see southpaw Rossouw – though there is still
a worrying rumour he may be tried as yet another experimental opener, rather
than capping the specialist Cook – slotted in at No 5 between right-handers AB
de Villiers and Temba Bavuma, and given a nothing-to-lose licence to thrill if
he possibly can.
Faf du Plessis, by contrast, is tending toward a cramped,
rather stroke-less game plan at present, which is somehow indicative of the
broader loss of once copious bravado in the batting unit.
He boasts just one half-century (86 on the Newlands
“paradise” deck over New Year) from his last 14 Test innings and probably needs
a mental break as much as anything; expect the 31-year-old to push himself back
into contention sooner rather than later if given a merciful cold shoulder at
We already know that Quinton de Kock will be one guaranteed
change at No 7, as he is reportedly fit again after his bizarre dog-walking
accident ahead of the Wanderers Test where South Africa surrendered the series
and Dane Vilas had to rush from Port Elizabeth to deputise behind the stumps
and do that part of the chore very soundly.
But perhaps some people forget that, still-youthful warts
and all, De Kock has very special qualities of his own both at the crease and
with the gloves, and could be another to benefit from the reduced pressures of
this being a Test match with less at stake than usual.
He may still have one or two technical and temperamental
gremlins as a batsman, but he also doesn’t hang about and could just prosper at
Centurion, if he gets away, with its often fast outfield and downhill slope to
the boundary ropes.
The Proteas’ plan to “bomb” England with four largely
back-of-a-length quickies in the Bullring rather backfired in their faces –
they were notably outwitted by a visiting attack prepared to let the ball do
devilish, deviating things much closer up to the bat – and I cannot see how
either of Hardus Viljoen or Chris Morris, regrettably, justify a further chance
just up the highway after unacceptably expensive analyses in Johannesburg.
I would be inclined to reduce the pace quartet to a trio
again, retaining both the in-form Kagiso Rabada and also Morne Morkel (at a
venue he is so familiar with) but bringing back the accurate, persevering
tendencies of Kyle Abbott as third element.
He has happy memories of SuperSport Park after his 9/68 Test
debut there against Pakistan two years ago, and should be a key element in
making England “work” appreciably harder for their runs than they had to in the
Trimming the SA seam division to three would also facilitate
the deserved restoration of Dane Piedt to continue his off-spinning development
at the highest level, after he was a victim of the horses-for-courses policy
for the third Test.
Centurion has not been an especially prolific hunting ground
statistically for slow bowlers in recent Test matches, but the surface there is
at least a little receptive to their trade and a return to better variety in
the attack is one way the Proteas can try to banish their Jo’burg blues in a
Suggested XI for
Centurion (five changes): Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers
(capt), Rilee Rossouw, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle
Abbott, Dane Piedt, Morne Morkel.
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