Cape Town – A well-documented and quite understandable theory: the Proteas’ penetrative and skill-laden bowling attack has a better chance of leading them to World Cup glory in England than the batting arsenal does.
You will find relatively few dissenters on that score, especially keeping in mind how Quinton de Kock and, to a lesser extent, captain Faf du Plessis have shouldered the unnatural bulk of the burden to prosper at the crease in one-day internationals recently.
More often than not this summer, and also in the period stretching well ahead of it, South Africa have tended to be bailed out by the bowlers, as it were, in order to sport a healthy enough win strike rate in the format.
The situation has been badly aggravated by the absence through startlingly premature international retirement, since February last year, of one of the biggest batting thrill-meisters (enduringly so) on the planet, AB de Villiers.
It is ominously seldom – post-De Villiers and with someone like Rilee Rossouw also lost to the cause -- that the Proteas’ specialist stroke-players come off as a unit, a hallmark that extends to the Test arena as well.
But if collective batting reliability – the lack thereof -- is already going to be viewed as a potential Achilles heel to the country’s chances of earning maiden World Cup success, examination of the records of SA’s likely, recognised batsmen at the event on British soil specifically will only heighten concerns.
In short, only two of their anticipated nine (seven genuine specialists, plus two all-rounders) can be described as boasting better records in those climes than they do elsewhere in the 50-overs landscape: Hashim Amla and David Miller.
Of those two, ironically, Amla is considered more peripheral than he usually would be, given his continued slip from once-giddying heights of personal achievement and the additional burden of current family angst, related to his seriously ill father.
Quite a few prominent home-based pundits, for example, while still keen to feature the bearded veteran in the 15-strong squad ranks for CWC 2019, appear to see him at this stage primarily as a “spare” batsman for South Africa at the tournament.
They might wish to consider revising that thought, of course, if they look at his prior levels of prosperity at the UK crease: he is a relatively rare beast in that both his ODI and Test records are significantly superior there than in an overall capacity.
Amla has amassed 851 ODI runs in England (not just against the home country, of course) at a blistering average of 56.73, well north of his career figure of 49.74.
As if to confirm his mastery of the country’s often unique conditions, his Test average there is an even more sublime 60.33 from 11 Tests, including his seminal, all-time SA high triple-century at The Oval … where the Proteas happen to kick off the World Cup against the host nation in a humdinger on paper on May 30.
Amla’s overall Test average has slipped nowadays to 46.64.
Miller, meanwhile, the hard-hitting chief designated “finisher” in the SA ranks, is the only other batting compatriot, likely to be on the CWC plane, able to show a better record in England than overall.
Although he doesn’t play Test cricket, the left-hander (like Amla, having benefited from a few stints with counties over the years) has shown a relish for English tracks in the ODI landscape: he has blasted 289 runs from 10 matches there at 48.16, well above his broader career 38.96 for the Proteas.
But that is where the “positive” column ends, when it comes to SA batsmen and their English-specific track records.
Even the two most reliable present figures, De Kock and Du Plessis, are in negative-equity territory in that regard, although they have, in fairness, both played surprisingly little ODI fare on those shores.
De Kock shows 246 runs from six ODIs there at a decent enough average of 41.00, although that is still a bit down on his 45.56 overall.
His best knock in England is the 98 he scored against that country at the Rose Bowl in 2017, a high-scoring game the Proteas lost by a nail-biting two runs.
Du Plessis, who featured for Lancashire several years ago, has played 15 ODIs on UK soil, and averages a humdrum – certainly for him – 28.53, against a career stat of 46.54.
For all the publicity at present around his confirmed decision to step down from the format after the World Cup, another seasoned batsman in JP Duminy has one final chance at the event to slightly rectify a notably poor record in England: an average of 21.61 from 19 ODIs, and a best score of only 38 not out at this point.
Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen are yet to play a single ODI in England, although the former had a spell with Durham last summer and his unfortunate sequence of ducks for the north-east county earned more headlines than his occasional exploits at the crease.
As for all-rounders Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius, they are also fairly callow presences when it comes to English batting know-how, considering that neither has played at domestic level there and boast only seven caps between them on that terrain internationally (spanning both ODI and T20).
Who, then, is going to influentially step up for the Proteas at the crease in the World Cup?
The jury’s out on that one.
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