Cape Town - In his last of six Test matches for South Africa
thus far, well over four years ago, Robin Peterson a little ironically picked
up a five-wicket haul.
It may “only” have been against minnows Bangladesh at
Chittagong, in their second dig preceding an innings defeat, but bear in mind
that like many batsmen on the Subcontinent, they tend to play spin more
comfortably than they do pace and especially in their own backyard.
A five-for is also a desperately-sought landmark that
continues to elude 11-cap Imran Tahir, the incumbent chief Proteas slow bowler
who has also had one of the most ignominious matches possible with the ball in
the second Test against Australia at Adelaide Oval.
Video: Australia v South Africa: Day 4 highlights
South Africa are clinging to survival by a relative thread,
and very smart money to head to Perth for the decisive final Test 0-1 down in
the series and having to win there to ensure ongoing occupation of the world No
Whether they achieve a fifth-day Aussie shut-out miracle in
Adelaide on Monday or not, their team will change for the WACA.
A formidable array of selection and “team balance” issues
will have to be confronted by the tourists’ brains trust, especially as it
seems highly likely that injured master all-rounder Jacques Kallis will not
play at all, and is an outside chance of inclusion just as a batsman if it is
believed he would also be able to field to a satisfactory enough level.
With the Proteas largely and worryingly on the back foot in
this series, regardless of the result in the second Test, a strategic regroup
will be required anyway.
Vernon Philander must come back into the side, his back
problem supposedly well on the mend, and the sub-standard showings in Australia
thus far by Jacques Rudolph and Tahir, in particular, need urgent debate.
Rudolph, who has got out four times in as many knocks to
Nathan Lyon, may yet be saved by the non-availability of Kallis to add to the
drawback of JP Duminy’s long-term injury mishap: there is not a surplus of
proven, Test-calibre South African batsmen floating around Down Under and the
closing Test starts as early as Friday.
The left-hander also has a slightly happier “history” in
Perth than he does elsewhere in the country, once having saved a Test match
there with a dogged second-innings century.
But Tahir? In short, he has to go.
The poor leg-spinner simply experienced too much scarring at
the hands of ruthless Aussie batsmen to possibly justify retention.
Indeed, his hitherto already inconclusive Test career also
hangs in the balance.
Statistics don’t lie, and in that regard Tahir has been an
abject flop in supposedly spin-friendly Adelaide, and then some.
He earned the notoriety, via his game “haul” of 0/260
(23-0-180-0 and 14-1-80-0) of becoming the most expensive bowler in Test
history without bagging a solitary wicket.
Just as significantly, this awful bruising saw his Test
bowling average balloon from 40.19, going into Adelaide, to 50.19.
In a nutshell, he did a lamentable, attempted holding job in
the Aussie first knock and just as ineffectual strike job under friendlier
conditions for his trade in the second.
By all accounts, he is a popular member of the side and
there are certainly some engaging aspects to his cricket personality. But these
don’t pay the bills, do they?
Even the much-maligned Paul Harris, who also boasts a
greatly better record at stopping up an end, has a bowling average of 37.87
from 37 Tests and his 103 scalps include an innings best of six for 127 - Tahir
is yet to nail more than three scalps in one knock and he just does not trouble
enough upper-order batsmen.
But Peterson is the second spinner on this tour and logic
suggests he should play in Perth. At the very least, there would be every
chance of him leaking runs far less damagingly, whilst he brings competent
lower-order batting and sprightly fielding.
Increasingly regular and efficient exposure to limited-overs
combat for South Africa also means that “Robbie P” is arguably a more
resourceful and broader-skilled bowler now than when he played in that
Mark Nicholas, the neutral Channel 9 commentator, said on
Sunday that he felt Peterson was a certainty for the WACA.
I might stop just short of being so sure, because there must
be a chance the Proteas will go in, on the legendarily gung-ho strip for
pacemen, with four seamers and rely on some slow bits and bobs from Faf du
Plessis at times.
Then again, even four quickies could yet mean possible
accommodation of Peterson at No 7: that is a little high for him with the
blade, yes, but remember that South Africa’s primary quest is likely to be to
do the 20 wickets job on the Baggy Greens, so they will need enough bowlers
even if the batting looks a little dicey too at present.
Uncertainty currently swirls in the South African camp, even
as they keep their eyes on the long-shot, match-saving needs of Adelaide.
The only thing that
is crystal clear, to my mind, is the unfortunate but very necessary sidelining
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