Sri Lanka in SA

Heat on several Proteas

2011-12-29 08:08
Ashwell Prince (Gallo Images)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Save the game or be ready for a “ship-out” or two from the squad ... that is a scenario likely to be at least mildly playing on the minds of several South African players as they face a hazardous final two days of the second Test against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead.

Following another near-humiliating day against the relative minnows on Wednesday, the Proteas already know that when they finally take to the crease for the game’s fourth innings, they will be chasing a world record score if they are to achieve a quite remarkable win.

A more likely prospect from their point of view, perhaps, is to try to somehow bat out the remaining play in the contest for a draw, which might require a good dollop of help from the fickle KwaZulu-Natal elements – let’s face it, moisture or bad light are seldom too far from the equation in those parts at this time of the year.

The Lankans, much maligned for their failure to win a single Test match yet in this country and understandably installed by some critics beforehand as likely recipients of a 3-0 series drubbing, are sitting more than pretty: a juggernaut 426 runs to the good and with three further second-innings wickets still to play with.

It is likely, then, that South Africa will be set something in the region of 450 or even more, well above the 414 national landmark they set by winning the first Test against Australia in Perth in 2008/09 with only four wickets down.

If it is any consolation to an outfit showing some signs of dispiritedness, at least the Proteas know that most of the architects of that giddy WACA win will be available to have another crack at a monster requirement.

Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers got centuries then, and there were half-ton contributions from both Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis ... of, for such a machine-like performance once more from a batting line-up that is showing disturbing new signs of vulnerability!

There was an additional, unbeaten 50 back then from a certain JP Duminy, who went on to light up the series which South Africa eventually won 2-1.

The little left-hander is odd man out because he is not currently in the Test picture, of course.

Yet it is not without significance that Duminy, on a day when the national side basically had their noses rubbed a little further into the dirt, occupied the crease doggedly for more than three hours in scoring 62 for the Cape Cobras as they played second fiddle on the first innings to the Warriors in the SuperSport Series at Paarl.

He was trapped leg before wicket by another decent cricketer surplus to present Test requirements, Wayne Parnell, just before stumps, but it was probably enough to just nudge the national selectors that he is still “around” and keen for a recall.

The Proteas continue - irritatingly considering their undoubted strength on paper - to be consistent only for their glaring inconsistency in the Test arena, and defeat at Kingsmead will greatly hasten the clamour for at least some measure of change to the ranks.

That has got to be the favoured result, even if it will be a surprise if South Africa fold quite as meekly as they did in their first innings.

And if the teams do unexpectedly go to Cape Town for the final Test locked at 1-1, perhaps the selectors will also be feeling much more inclined to take meaningful renewal steps for Newlands.

In the top seven in the batting order, for instance, there are certainly three players whose continued tenure is under scrutiny: Jacques Rudolph, Ashwell Prince and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.

The former two are labouring for genuinely big scores this summer, whilst veteran Boucher did his own ongoing credentials little good by being centrally involved in the dropped catch let-off on Wednesday for Kumar Sangakkara on three - instead the hitherto greatly out-of-form kingpin went on to register a timely maiden century on our soil.

Win or not in Durban, Sri Lanka will have been hugely buoyed by Sangakkara getting off the hook and among the runs to bolster his chances of carrying robust confidence into the (likely) decisive Newlands fixture over New Year.

The Proteas’ current problems do not end there, because the make-up of the attack will also be a thorny issue for the last Test, albeit a quandary of a slightly more pleasant kind.

If he is fit, Vernon Philander quite obviously has to return to the mix after missing Kingsmead through a knee injury.

Apart from his amazing wicket-taking ability in the earliest days of his Test career thus far, he is also more capable than most of the South African bowlers operating at Kingsmead of performing a “holding” role when necessary.

Commentator HD Ackerman made a good point after Wednesday’s play when he said the arsenal in Durban was too “strike-bowler dominated”.

That includes the leg-spinner, Imran Tahir, who still mixes the good with the bad and can certainly be said to have failed to make quite the impact anticipated since he became available to the Test cause.

It is not out of the question that the Proteas will consider simply fielding an all-seam bombardment at Newlands, with a bit of grass left on the surface if possible, although it tends to be a South African venue where a tweaking specialist is especially important to have.

Here Duminy’s prospects again come into the picture, because his presence not only as a refreshing batting component but tidy occasional off-spinner as well could serve as a bridging option of some sort if omitting Tahir is considered feasible.

Questions, questions ... they could all be put firmly on hold if the Proteas’ current combo produces a stirring rescue act in Durban.

Just don’t count on it too heavily, as things stand.

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