Proteas

Next innings a watershed for jittery Proteas?

2019-02-21 21:22
Quinton de Kock
Quinton de Kock (AP)

Cape Town - Perhaps the best development from a South African perspective at St George's Park on Thursday was that the pivotal second Test against Sri Lanka already seems massively likely, after fast-moving day one, to deliver a result.

Once again, though, there weren't too many other good points for the Proteas, who only underlined their mounting characteristic in the five-day format of a so often lethal bowling attack being negatively offset by their widespread batting frailties.

Thirteen wickets tumbled on the opening day, 10 of them the host nation's after they'd won the toss, as the game found itself right in the balance by the close - Sri Lanka 60 for three in reply to an acutely disappointing 222 by Faf du Plessis' team.

The Proteas would have had redder faces, too, but for Quinton de Kock, the one pleasing bastion of real consistency at present, scoring a virtually run-a-ball 86 from the No 6 berth.

With good weather generally on the radar for the remainder of the Test, a draw in Port Elizabeth is an unlikely scenario even at this early juncture.

Stalemate is an outcome the visitors and heavy pre-series underdogs would gleefully seize with both hands, thank you very much, considering that they would be assured of 1-0 triumph in the compressed series and simultaneously become the very first Subcontinent side in 22 attempts to prevail on South African soil.

As things stand, they remain very much at the races in the Friendly City to make it a 2-0 sweep, which would truly signal a disaster and rank humiliation for the Proteas.

Becoming more and more likely, though, is that South Africa - still with vital work to do in the field on Friday, mind - face a watershed second innings, whatever the eventual outcome of the contest.

They will require a few batsmen who have increasingly tenuous holds on their present positions, to either go big then or go "home": more specifically, make way for others or at very least change berths in some instances.

Another top-order slump, of the kind that saw them depressingly wilt to 15 for three on Thursday (quickly banishing any dreams of a now notably rare 400-plus insurance total) really must be considered a last straw now; a signal for meaningful reshaping of the order.

Certainly all of the trio who failed in the first hour at St George's - Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma - should be under harsh, special scrutiny from the brains trust and sorely in need of weighty vigils the second time around if they are to cling to their current posts.

Elgar is meant to be team's scrapper, always a handy hallmark to possess in the ranks, but even gritty battlers are expected to make runs and it is a cold fact that he averages 18 in 13 Test innings since his altogether happier last summer in a Proteas shirt.

As for the veteran Amla, who registered his first golden duck in his 214th innings, his latest misfortune only adds to his overall, violent decline as a once-dominating Test batsman over the last 18 months or thereabouts.

Your No 3 custodian (though he has occasionally been at four) failing to register a century in 28 knocks and only going past 50 six times is hardly the stuff of stability in a bedrock position, and it is possible - as I suggested earlier in the week - that the soon 36-year-old will step down from his largely glittering Test career soon after this game, whether or not he gets significantly among the runs in his second turn at the crease.

There is an increasing risk otherwise that a decision may be taken out of his hands, and that would not be a dignified, appropriate way for the wonderful warrior to go.

Bavuma? The frustration around him only increases, really.

He somehow manages to combine confidence and technical capability with a perplexing failure to notch the kind of meaty scores required at No 4 - the old "Jacques Kallis position".

On Thursday he was responsible for his own demise for a duck by backing up too far and being run out at the non-striker's end, but it only brought into further question his suitability to operating so high in the order - one century from 58 innings in various slots is hardly a justification for occupying that prime spot - and the 28-year-old just seems immeasurably better suited to aiding the cause from less pressured five or six at this stage.

It is all very well for people to protest "who else is there?" for some of the problem batting berths in the SA team.

But the cycle of rank instability only continues and matters really ought to come to a head if the Proteas' second innings in PE is afflicted by the same problems as the first, or else it will seem only more reasonable to accuse the selectors of inertia or, at very least, over-generosity toward failing figures.

A continued trend of under-delivery would only serve as an insult to those like Zubayr Hamza, Theunis de Bruyn, Pieter Malan - and perhaps also recent one-day international stride-makers Reeza Hendricks and Rassie van der Dussen? - waiting patiently in the queue for a fair, reasonably protracted crack at the Test landscape.

Yes, the scheduled next series, against India away much later in the year, is a hugely taxing one and some allowance will have to be made for solid experience within the ranks.

Then again, a few current Proteas players may well still be mentally scarred by the 0-3 hammering there last time around: most of the alternatives names mentioned would not be ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sri lanka  |  proteas  |  cricket

 

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