Proteas: Vilas must deliver runs

2015-11-13 13:03
Dane Vilas (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The fair and decent intention, you have to imagine, is still for Dane Vilas to have the relative luxury of the entire, four-game current series against India to show his mettle for the Proteas in Test cricket.

Only there may, suddenly, be little further room for fairness and decency if South Africa crash to a second successive defeat in Bangalore over the next few days and find themselves urgently needing a pair of bounce-back victories themselves if they are to hold onto a proud unbeaten away record in the format since 2006.

The still-rookie (albeit 30 years old) wicketkeeper-batsman at this level will play only his third Test match at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium from Saturday – in his first, a rain-blighted affair in Bangladesh, he didn’t even get to take guard – yet probably be all too aware that a significant batting contribution may be required if he is to retain his berth for the full duration of the series.

Let’s face it, giving a player a suitably settled trial run is a much more comfortable exercise to undertake when you are winning, or at least not losing, Test matches.

Whether justifiably or not, it is difficult to believe that Vilas’s place won’t come under fairly concentrated scrutiny if the world’s top-ranked Proteas go a rare 0-2 down, he fails to deliver with the blade a la Mohali, and a deepening form of collective soul-searching takes root in the travelling camp.

It seems only right at this point to stress that the Cape Cobras stalwart did commendably little wrong with his glove-work a few days ago, on a much-debated pitch which must have made his specialist trade as challenging as batting was, what with balls from the faster men often coming through inconveniently low and dust billowing about whenever disturbed as he stood up to the stumps.

But the increasing trend – or make that necessity – is for your wicketkeeper to be deemed a genuine contributor as batsman, more often than not from a position without the top seven these days.

Gone is the era when, say, one of Vilas’s notable ‘keeping predecessors at provincial level in Cape Town, the oft-immaculate Richie Ryall of the period before and just beyond unity, could be excused for not offering any runs potential much above his regular stationing at No 10 or even 11 in the order for the Western Province Currie Cup team.

Vilas is no Ryall: his first-class batting average stands at an acceptable shade above 40, whereas that of the straight-blade latter – he was always a good stonewalling night-watchman type, mind – was a modest 16.13.

Ryall never came close to a century; Vilas has 10.

So this is not intended as any rather needless comparison.

But it is a gentle reminder that Vilas playing closer to his known competence at the crease would be a welcome development as South Africa seek to atone for what happened to them in Mohali.

He was bundled out for one and seven in the first Test, showing some fledgling signs of resilience the second time around, but having fallen victim to an ill-fated, skied sweep off the off-spinning dangerman Ravichandran Ashwin after a mere three-ball vigil in the first knock.

Any repeat of such low productivity on the scoreboard at Bangalore, especially if it is accompanied by broader SA “difficulty” in this contest, and Vilas will be on more dangerous ground when it comes to determining the XI for the third Test in Nagpur.

Although it is no longer policy for the Proteas to use the amazingly versatile AB de Villiers as Test gloveman, he is usually willing to do the job in emergency or team balance-related situations, and there may be a fresh clamour for the ace stroke-player to temporarily take over, thus freeing up either another dedicated batting or bowling berth, if radical action is required to strike back in the series.

Similarly, when the team eventually arrives back in South Africa for the domestic summer’s headline series against England, Vilas knows that multi-talented wunderkind Quinton de Kock will also be pushing with some vigour for a return to the side.

Maybe Bangalore won’t prove to be some sort of unreasonably premature, make-or-break occasion for the incumbent wicketkeeper.

Like it or not, though, there is just a chance it will ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  dane vilas  |  cricket

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