Cape Town – Strengthening their batting order is likely to be a key area of attention by South Africa, stung by their first defeat in a Test match under the leadership of Hashim Amla at Mohali on Saturday, as they prepare for the second contest against India in Bangalore from next weekend.
It would be taking an overly doom-laden attitude to suggest yet that the world No 1-ranked side are set for a first away series reverse since Sri Lanka in 2006, as three Tests still lie ahead in this one and they can be slightly sleepy starters.
The Proteas also went toe-to-toe with the host nation in several respects during a three-day lottery of a first Test before succumbing by 108 runs on a particularly dusty, turning pitch that has provoked widespread debate of both the “pro” and “anti” kind both in both countries and more broadly.
But certainly some alarm bells do flash – the tourists were bundled out for 109 in their second innings as a follow-up to their 184 the first time around, which meant they posted their lowest fourth-knock total anywhere since being similarly routed for 105 (chasing 170) in Ahmedabad under Hansie Cronje’s leadership back in 1996.
The consensus among sages seems to be that perhaps conditions will be slightly less extreme at the remaining venues ... albeit still weighted in favour of the home team’s traditional strength in both dispensing and facing spin bowling.
In both turns at the crease on the Mohali “minefield” – though that depends on your point of view on it – there were numerous instances of South African batsmen greatly contributing to their own downfall through impatience, poor judgement or indecisive footwork rather than special demons in the surface.
Frankly, both SA innings should have better both for durability and volume of runs, and that is why the Proteas’ team hierarchy will have to give thought to compiling a line-up with greater proven depth in batting than the one put out in the first contest, where rookie wicketkeeper Dane Vilas was the risky designated No 6.
He batted one slot lower in the second knock, though only because Amla and company took the quirky decision – I don’t believe it should be pilloried! – to try to surprise India by promoting all-rounder Vernon Philander, a confident and combative cricketing character, to opener and restoring a left-right combo up top.
But if they are to make essential, bulkier totals from the second Test onward, a rebalancing is almost certainly required to ensure that Vilas stays at seven and there are six genuine willow-wielding specialists ahead of him. That is, unless there is another U-turn in the saga of one AB de Villiers as a five-day gloveman; a complex debate in itself.
The answer should lie – assuming he is virtually back to full fitness now after his hand injury – in recalling experienced JP Duminy to the No 6 berth, which also gives the Proteas an extra bowling option with his off-breaks.
Given that both SA frontline spinners at Mohali, Simon Harmer and Imran Tahir, gave encouraging performances, there seems no reason to omit either in Bangalore, which may offer them a bit of bounce to go with any expected turn.
They would then have ample slow-bowling assistance from both Duminy and Dean Elgar.
So provision for the inclusion of Duminy – or the other additional batsman Temba Bavuma, who did some livewire close-in fielding as a substitute in the first Test, if the former is still ruled out – will have to come at the expense of one of the fast bowlers.
Perhaps it will become an “easy” process if Dale Steyn, who unusually could not get a wicket in the first Test and was unable to bowl in the Indian second innings due to a groin strain, cannot play.
That would leave Philander and Kagiso Rabada to potentially carry the pace can; both men did a solid job of helping to build pressure in the first Test, and when you consider that India themselves only totalled 201 and 200, there is little currently wrong with the SA attack.
For any additional seam needs, there is always the part-time medium-pace input of Stiaan van Zyl, who keeps a lid on the opposition scoring rate quite effectively while picking up the odd scalp.
The Proteas’ character as a Test combination is just one reason why they have been top of the global pile for a fair while, and they certainly aren’t out of this series, even if there is extra pressure now at least not to lose in Bangalore in what will be star player De Villiers’s 100th Test.
As national selector and pundit Ashwell Prince firmly pointed out in the spirited post-mortem of the Mohali scrap in the SuperSport studio: “If we see pretty much the same conditions (onward), the toss will decide the outcome of this series.”
With India having got that particular rub of the green in the first Test, perhaps the Proteas are due for better luck in the second ...
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