Bullring: Why Proteas may change policy

2018-01-20 16:27
Temba Bavuma (Gallo)
Cape Town - Temba Bavuma for Keshav Maharaj ... in a move that steers the Proteas back toward a deeper batting line-up in the third and final Test against India at the Wanderers from Wednesday.

That, based on key meteorological pointers right now for the five days in Johannesburg, seems an increasingly likely call by the national team’s brains trust as they plot their first-ever series clean sweep of these opponents.

The whitewash possibility is a strong incentive for the Proteas, already 2-0 to the good, not to succumb to the threat - and history constantly reminds it is not insignificant - of tardy, lethargic “dead-rubber” habits from them at the Bullring.

It would be difficult to raise eyebrows too pointedly if South Africa opt for a “same again” structural approach to their XI, considering that the formula of six batsmen and five bowlers - and little in the way of in-between players - earned respective triumphs at Newlands and SuperSport Park.

But coach Ottis Gibson and his back-up staff, you can virtually be sure, will also very earnestly discuss more of a horses-for-courses approach for the specific needs of the Wanderers.

Encouraging that further, as things stand, are the weather-related signals for the Test, suggesting that only day one (Wednesday) is going to be free of any precipitation in the Big Smoke.

Latest SA Weather Service forecasts predict a not inconsiderable total of around 60 millimetres of rain from Thursday through to Sunday.

Naturally not all of that would fall during “cricket hours”, and it is also possible that much of it will come in the form of trademark, heavy afternoon thundershowers that only interrupt play to a limited extent.

But good amounts of cloud cover, at very least, are also tipped for generous tracts of the Test match and everyone knows what that generally means at Wanderers: a certain spitefulness in favour of the quickies and some seam movement into the bargain.

Long-time Proteas enthusiasts, when thinking of a damp, murky Bullring, inevitably trigger simultaneous memories of “two for four” ... that unenviable day for England back in November 1999 when they lost a critical toss and Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock cashed in mercilessly with the new ball.

The tourists never recovered from that carnage of those first three (yes, three) overs, being bundled out for 122 and going on to lose by an innings.

There was a certain freakishness to that particular day one of a Jo’burg Test, both statistically and in terms of the gross weighting in favour of pace bowling, and it may be foolhardy to start thinking of a carbon copy at any point in the looming fixture.

But unless the forecast changes fairly profoundly over the next couple of days, a specialist spinner being a largely redundant character for this contest nevertheless appears a strong likelihood.

Impressive though he has been over the course of 16 Tests for the Proteas so far, left-arm spinner Maharaj being sacrificed does not look – at least from some four days out - the most heinous of crimes.

Indeed, if he does sit out it would amount to the third Wanderers Test in succession in which the home side have overlooked a spinner; they did so most recently in a rout of Sri Lanka last season and, before that, a defeat to England on their last tour here.

Especially considering the stirring debut of Lungi Ngidi at Centurion, the Proteas have every reason to suspect that a quartet of pacemen - and probably the same ones who did duty there, unless there is a feeling that rotation should come into play - will be sufficient to do the series “kill” job in Johannesburg.

Not picking Maharaj would also facilitate a logical return to the mix of the suitably obdurate, technically tight Bavuma, stiffening the batting department in the likely challenging conditions.

It is not as though the Proteas batsmen have fired on all cylinders over the course of the first two Tests; there were times when, largely due to collywobbles at the crease, India were granted promising, genuine gateways into the respective contests.

Bavuma is also in tidy enough nick after being released to play a Momentum One-Day Cup match for the Cape Cobras against the Knights a few days ago, and contributing a brisk 65 off 74 balls at the top of the order.

Of course he is even more likely to secure a Wanderers berth if in-form Aiden Markram fails to come through his fitness examination on Tuesday, after a thigh strain, although he was tipped very recently to recover in time.

*Assuming everyone in the squad has a clean bill of health, this may well be the SA team on Wednesday if the rain outlook stays strong:

Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Lungi Ngidi

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  temba bavuma  |  cricket

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