Crazy burden on SA’s top order

2016-06-06 12:51
Farhaan Behardien (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Have the Proteas ever fielded such a vulnerable bottom six in their one-day international batting order?

Put it this way: it is difficult to imagine there has been a much fluffier tail statistically in their 552 ODIs prior to Friday’s triangular series-opening setback against West Indies at Providence Stadium in Guyana.

South Africa enter Tuesday’s next challenge against Australia (19:00 SA time) at the same, spin-friendly venue under pressure to hit back fast or they will be nought from two with only four games remaining to secure a place in the Bridgetown, Barbados final on June 26.

But at least until stalwart batsman Faf du Plessis is able to join the tri-series action – he is gradually rehabbing from a broken finger sustained in the Indian Premier League – the other two sides will be only too aware of the Proteas’ gross limitations in batting depth.

It was extremely telling in game one that they received a decent enough platform from their formidable top five, who placed them in a tidy position at one stage to achieve a very defendable total in the region of 240 or 250.

Instead they crumpled like a pack of cards from the lower middle-order down, starting with the two-ball duck from designated -- but traditionally fallible --- No 6 on the day Farhaan Behardien as 188 all out proved just too little to protect.

What is abundantly clear is that one of the Proteas’ mainline batsmen needs to persevere right through to the closing overs (especially on challenging, unreliable surfaces) given the current structure of the team which contains glaringly few bowlers who boast any reliability with the blade.

It is bad enough that partial all-rounder Behardien only continues to under-deliver in a 42-match ODI career, where his batting average has dipped further to 29.50 – more than 10 runs shy, for example, of the Aussie equivalent player in his slot in the order at present, Mitchell Marsh.

The Australians have less reason to stress about competence at the crease lower down, too, considering that someone like fast bowler Mitchell Starc, at around No 8, boasts superior batting stats in the format right now to South Africa’s No 7, Chris Morris – albeit that the latter is considerably less experienced in caps terms and seems to have the ability and drive to improve.

Steven Smith’s charges won’t be cowed, either, by the batting “potential” of the Proteas’ last four as presently constituted: you could shuffle Kyle Abbott, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir around all you liked without really solving a bunny problem of some substance.

The leanness of the batting lower down must cause a constant mental dilemma for South Africa’s specialists nearer the top, who have to juggle the demands of securing a brisk start and not getting over-eager because of the knowledge that a couple of wickets in quick succession means some vulnerable players are all too soon padding up.

What can the Proteas do about their problem? Not a lot, at least until Du Plessis is ready to take guard for them belatedly at the event, probably at the expense of Behardien: there are no other out-and-out batsmen in the travelling party, which is lopsidedly weighted in favour of bowlers.

One possibility would be to give Wayne Parnell a first appearance at the tournament – the left-arm paceman does have some proper batting skills -- but that isn’t easy given the obvious need to have a wide range of spin resources, and the fact that Abbott and Rabada were economical enough against the Windies to warrant another go.

The Aussies will enter the fixture the more relaxed of the protagonists, considering that they beat West Indies quite easily in their first match on Sunday.

At the same time, though, Russell Domingo, AB de Villiers and company might do well to remind their troops that Windies ineptitude rather than Australian majesty went a long way to explaining the result.

The home side were skittled for 116 batting first, with more than 17 overs criminally unused, but far too many of their batsmen succumbed to reckless, lofted front-of-wicket drives or ambitious dances out of the crease to suggest that the pitch was really a turning paradise.

A bit of common sense and gritty application could yet serve the Proteas well on Tuesday, even with that structural weakness on the batting front taken into account …

*Here are the ODI batting records of the SA bottom six fielded against West Indies last Friday:

No 6 Farhaan Behardien: 35 inns, ave 29.50, HS 70

No 7 Chris Morris: 7 inns, ave 17.50, HS 62

No 8 Kyle Abbott: 11 inns, ave 10.71, HS 23

No 9 Aaron Phangiso: 11 inns, ave 7.66, HS 20

No 10 Kagiso Rabada: 8 inns, ave 12.75, HS 24

No 11 Imran Tahir: 19 inns, ave 9.11, HS 23*

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  farhaan behardien  |  cricket

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