Proteas in Australia
Rudolph needs to cement spot
Cape Town - The lengthy absence now of JP Duminy inadvertently aids his retention quest, but Jacques Rudolph is a proud enough cricketer to know the most desired recipe for keeping his Proteas Test berth: weight of runs.
His tally has been moderate, at best, since his return from five years in the wilderness in November 2011, 12 Tests and 18 innings producing just one century - against New Zealand at Dunedin - and three half-tons.
The left-hander’s pattern of relative mediocrity, a situation that many stubbornly insist does little justice to his talent, only continued in the first Test of the current series against Australia, where he scored 31 and 11 and was dismissed each time by the Baggy Greens’ off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
Lyon is not exactly regarded as a world-beater yet, although in vintage Aussie fashion there is nothing quite like an ex-player banging a drum fervently in your favour: 38-cap fellow off-break specialist Ashley Mallett, whose heyday was the Seventies, is already enthusing over the possibility that Rudolph will become Lyon’s “bunny” this summer.
Mallett told the Sydney Morning Herald this week that the Titans favourite was “a wicket about to happen” for Lyon once more in the second Test at the traditionally spin-friendly Adelaide Oval from Thursday (02:00 start, SA time).
“I think he (Rudolph) is very susceptible to good off-spin; he doesn’t play spin very well and if Lyon bowls well, he’ll knock him over.”
Just for good measure, Mallett ventures that Lyon will have a bigger influence in Adelaide than Imran Tahir, the leg-spinner almost certain to be recalled by the Proteas: “He’ll (Tahir) go for a few runs here; he might get the odd wicket.”
Aged 31, and with 47 Test appearances to his credit, Rudolph is unlikely to be too ruffled by Mallett’s dismissive rating of him.
But if he is already feeling just a hint of pressure based on his questionable statistical value to the cause recently, let’s just say that Mallett’s gung-ho talk may not necessarily aid Rudolph’s state of mind, going into the second clash.
He did not look the part in a short stint as opening batsman last season, and since his switch to the middle order - predominantly at No 6 - has not yet grasped that chore too compellingly, either.
Rudolph’s average in nine Tests against Australia is a less-than-flattering 24.82, some way down on his career average of 35.97 which some critics would brand slightly problematic in itself.
But if he wants some ammunition for a personal mindset in Adelaide that suitably blends the dogged and the positive, the batsman might do well to recall his century in maiden appearance against these particular foes at Perth (2005/06).
Set an ominous target on that occasion of 491 to win, South Africa were never going to get there and it was all about stone-walling for the stalemate against an attack that included Messrs McGrath, Warne and Lee in their relative heyday.
Rudolph headed up the successful rearguard initiative, his 102 not out in more than seven hours on a fourth- and fifth-day track an exercise in unfailing resolve and concentration.
Was that the real Rudolph who shut the gate so competently and crucially at the WACA?
A timely, meaningful contribution to this Test would tilt presently undecided neutral judges nearer to saying “aye” ...
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