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
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,
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
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
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
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 …
are the ODI batting records of the SA bottom six fielded against West Indies
No 6 Farhaan Behardien: 35 inns, ave 29.50,
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
No 10 Kagiso Rabada: 8 inns, ave 12.75, HS
No 11 Imran Tahir: 19 inns, ave 9.11, HS
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