Proteas: Alarm bells for England tour

2015-12-04 15:31
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The wisest of Test cricket followers will be fully aware that a bad series on the Subcontinent often has little bearing on fortunes when a team returns to its own, often vastly different habitat.

We need increasingly to hope that holds true in the case of the currently wilting - and almost violently so - Proteas.

That is because four-Test hostilities with England begin in only 22 days’ time, and South Africa staring down the barrel of a likely 0-3 humiliation - they were also playing ominous second fiddle in the rain-plagued second-Test stalemate - in India.

Looking tired, clueless and bedraggled, Hashim Amla’s side, with the captain in the midst of a deepening batting rot himself, were bombed out for a miserly 121 in their first innings of the final encounter in Delhi on Friday.

It was a wretched reply to India’s 334, easily the highest total of the hitherto low-scoring series, and perhaps this Test may only drag beyond three days on the grounds that the hosts have opted not to enforce the follow-on, so will be looking to pile on further misery at the crease before making the world’s wobbling top-ranked side bat last in pursuit of a formidable target.

After much heated debate about the merits or demerits of tracks presented earlier in the series, this one at the Feroz Shah Kotla has provided a pretty fair contest between bat and ball so far - and still the Proteas have not been able or maybe even willing in certain cases to cut the mustard.

Of great concern, again only the effervescent AB de Villiers managed to look comfortable as he compiled a smooth 42 in exactly two hours before holing out on the fence as partners began to dwindle for him and he tried to push the team into safer territory beyond any follow-on consideration.

There was a period of pluckiness from makeshift opening batsman Temba Bavuma, who lasted 91 minutes and 55 deliveries for 22, but then succumbed when seemingly well set - a problem that has afflicted many a South African stroke-player during this forgettable few weeks.

The one shaft of light, even taking into account that India got royally off the hook in their first dig from once being 139 for six, was the enduring determination and guile on Friday of seamer Kyle Abbott, who finished with exemplary figures of 5/40 from one ball short of 25 overs.

With an economy rate of 1.61, it told you that at least one person had some grasp of the concept of pressure-building while not sacrificing penetration.

Abbott now has 18 scalps at 17.55 midway through only his fifth Test, and firmly stuck a hand up for inclusion at his familiar Kingsmead, where the first clash with England is scheduled from Boxing Day.

Speaking of that fast-looming fixture, former national captain Kepler Wessels, in the SuperSport studio, was grimly accurate when he said there were now “some issues, some uncertainties” when it came to SA selection for it.

“Some of our batsmen are in dire straits with the England series only a couple of (weeks away).”

He would have been referring to several in the present, vulnerable top seven including Dean Elgar, Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Dane Vilas, all of whose five-day averages are taking a battering in India.

Former Proteas coach Eric Simons, meanwhile, served a reminder that most of the touring players probably cannot wait for the Indian trip to end.

“The batsmen don’t have a reference point to trust in, with every innings we play at the moment (preceded by) an equally bad one ... so it has become a deer-in-the-headlights situation.

“It can be a lonely place. As a coach I have seen many batsmen in dark places, emptiness in their eyes.”

You do wonder when a more familiar fullness will return to the eyeballs for some in the Proteas’ ranks ... there is little time for rest or deep contemplation.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cricket

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