Proteas

Centurion: Strategy change by Proteas?

2016-08-23 22:01
JP Duminy (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The feeling-out Test has come and gone without much … well, feeling out.

South Africa and New Zealand are really none the wiser about each other after the 450 potential overs at their disposal in the first of two encounters, at Kingsmead, ended up being fractionally fewer than 100 due to much-discussed, weather-related intrusions.

It was a tame stalemate in every sense, as the Proteas had posted an indifferent first innings total and the Black Caps were in some early doo-doo, two down after a dozen overs, in reply before the deflating abandonment of three full days’ play at the back end.

So the slate is clean going into what has become a one-Test battle to determine which way – if any – the short series goes, beginning at SuperSport Park on Saturday.

Right now, mercifully, the forecast suggests positively glorious, warm weather in the vicinity of Centurion for the duration of the contest.

But there have also been some reported warnings from the local ground-staff that a pitch with good carry and movement may be beyond their preparation capability given the early-spring scheduling.

Strips on the Highveld only really tend to quicken up from October or November onward when the summer sun has become suitably intense to aid their firmness and bounce; this clash obviously occurs well short of that calendar mark being reached, despite the promise of mostly cloudless skies.

So something of a back-breaker for the faster bowlers could be on the cards, with the ball perhaps “creeping” more frequently than it takes off … and that should be the cue for the Proteas’ planners to at least contemplate the possibility of rebalancing the XI.

They stuck to their quite long-favoured “seven batsmen, four bowlers” formula in Durban, but there was enough swing in the limited playing time, especially when it was damp and cloudy, to suggest that a three-man pace attack – Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada – supplemented by off-spinner Dane Piedt might have been enough to achieve the all-important 20-wickets job if given the fullest opportunity there.

But now the hosts are under even fiercer pressure to ensure that they secure the series: nil-nil would have a negligible impact, at best, on their desperate bid to climb back up the rankings from a current, unpalatable seventh (the Black Caps are fifth).

For all the penetrative promise shown by Steyn and Philander in their opening – and sadly only – spells at Kingsmead, both remain well short of recent “legs time” in extended forms of cricket and  their five-day durability on a likely slow, hard-toil pitch is a bit of an early-season unknown.

Under such circumstances, the Proteas might be ill-advised to simply keep faith in their Durban line-up en masse for this follow-up encounter in different conditions.

They will have a long, proper look at the surface on offer over the next couple of days, but it might yet be an inspiring move to sacrifice a batsman – JP Duminy would probably be the most at risk – and have Quinton de Kock, well capable of major scores if he avoids being too impulsive, shift upward to No 6.

That would facilitate the addition at No 7 of a bowling all-rounder, either of Chris Morris or Wayne Parnell, to allow for a more intense bowling blitz on the Kiwis if wickets do look like being relatively slow and irregular to come by.

I sometimes can’t help thinking of the seven-four split as a sort of “safety valve” against defeat more than it is a statement of intent to press boldly for victory.

Proteas fans won’t necessarily desire safety in the Centurion Test.

After a sequence of nine failures to win a Test match of consequence (if you exclude the consolation dead-rubber victory over England at the very same SuperSport Park late last season) they badly want success …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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