Proteas

Bullring: Jury out over SA’s team shape!

2018-01-24 21:45
Andile Phehlukwayo (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – There must have been times on Wednesday when Faf du Plessis felt like the bloke with the hotdog dilemma.

READ: Phehlukwayo gets 'goosebumps' watching Big Vern

You know … the lone motorist who saunters into the quick-shop for the one costing R22 only to be told with some enthusiasm it is “two-for-R32 day”.

So does he go the whole hog, or realise deep down that the extra one is really a bit more than he needs?

Whether by personal approval pre-game or not, Proteas skipper Du Plessis found himself in the unusual position on day one of the Wanderers dead-rubber Test against India of having to administer not four but FIVE quickies, following the decision to recall lower order all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo to the mix.

The scoreboard at the close did little, of course, to suggest that the move was an automatic howler … very far from it, in fact.

Wickets were shared around liberally among the arsenal of unrelenting, heavy bombers in India’s iffy total of 187 all out (the hosts six for one in reply at stumps) after winning the toss on a challenging Bullring track.

Nor was Phehlukwayo, the mix-it-up guy in the seam line-up who errs closer to medium than outright swift, an absentee from the near-orgy of dismissals: you can’t turn your nose up too far at 7-1-25-2, including the scalps of both the resilient Cheteshwar Pujara and Hardik Pandya.

The 21-year-old is increasingly, after three-and-a-bit Tests, developing a tidy little line in “chipping in” in the wickets column -- for the record, he currently sports 11 dismissals at an average of 12.00 even if this is his first exposure to hostilities against a top-bracket foe.

Still, with this contest already showing strong signs of volatility and certain lotto-like tendencies, I am not yet convinced that I can peaceably ditch my reservations over a Proteas line-up featuring pace from so many pores and, as a consequence, an economical batting line-up.

READ: Pujara: One of toughest wickets I've played on

With better accuracy and ruthlessness from the already series-winning hosts, the Indians might have been knocked over for well less than their eventual tally: kingpin and top scorer Virat Kohli was charitably dropped twice, a review was messed up by South Africa and Vernon Philander got a wicket with a no-ball.

Keeping those occurrences in mind, a rigid suspicion remains for me that the Proteas might just as easily have kept the Indians to well less than 200 simply via their four-strong, more frontline strike bowlers.

If that had transpired, a case would have only swelled that there really could have been nerve-easing room – vitally, based on what we have seen of the surface? – for an additional specialist batsman, something both teams, coincidentally, cry out for on paper considering the environment the Test is taking place in.

“I can’t remember when last I saw a Test featuring 10 fast bowlers,” said former SA skipper Graeme Smith, with discernible hints of disapproval, on SuperSport commentary during relatively early play on Wednesday. (India have gone the same, gung-ho route composition-wise.)

At stumps, too, veteran sages Michael Holding and Kepler Wessels had not altered their own suspicions that five fast bowlers per side amounts to overkill, for just about any Test match.

Yes, Phehlukwayo offers “something” with the bat in the lower order, even if a present first-class average of 20 does little to bear that out. Who knows, he may even tick a personal box dramatically at the highest level by showing some crease durability or counter-punching endeavour on the often spiteful Jo’burg pitch.

But my instinct remains -- and this is certainly no dedicated railing against the keen, motivated and talented cricketer eventually selected – that the Proteas have missed a trick by not having another look at one of their fringe batsmen on this occasion.

The time cannot be that far away when the likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Du Plessis call time on Test cricket, possibly at roughly the same bend in the road which is not the most palatable of thoughts.

So even if the most suitable and appealing “reserve” option right now, Temba Bavuma, has been cruelly sidelined for a few weeks – and just maybe he would have played here, if fit? -- a chance was spurned to gauge the capability in South African conditions of Theunis de Bruyn.

He did a bit of substitute fielding, as has occurred earlier in the series too, but the 25-year-old with three prior caps in the distant and unfamiliar landscapes of New Zealand and England is yet to sample batting activity for his country on his own soil.

There’s something else to consider as the Proteas a little gingerly brace themselves for a tough day’s batting on Thursday, with Aiden Markram (2) already no further use to the first innings.

Premier strokeplayer De Villiers has a bruised middle finger, which may impede him to yet undiscovered degrees, and Dean Elgar already wearing one for the team, as they say, after a nasty blow below the left elbow in his short, unbeaten evening vigil on Wednesday.

This fast-moving Test needs all the batsmen it can get.

And across the board, there ain’t quite enough, by my estimation.

Wait-and-see approach?

Well, OK …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  faf du plessis  |  cricket
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