Cape Town – South Africa have been unusually century-shy
over the course of their last five Test matches, spanning the completed
three-game series in New Zealand and half of the ding-dong current one in
Statistics, or at least these particular ones, don’t lie:
the Proteas have only converted one score of 50 or more among their 20
registered in that period to three figures; yes, that amounts to a strangely
flimsy conversion rate of five percent.
The lone century-maker in the spell under scrutiny is
opening batsman Dean Elgar, who made a key 140 – earning him the
man-of-the-match award – in the drawn first Test against the Black Caps at
There were four other half-centuries by South Africans in
that Test, a further two in Wellington and three in Hamilton.
The inability to transfer good starts into tons has seeped
into the first two Tests against England, which is locked at 1-1 (one
convincing triumph each) going into Thursday’s third encounter at The Oval,
starting at 12:00 SA time.
So far in the series, Proteas batsmen have notched 10
half-centuries, but the only ascent to a ton has instead come from an
Englishman, their captain Joe Root, whose leadership is naturally under
considerably deeper scrutiny than his own form after the battering his charges
took at Trent Bridge.
Root scored 190 in England’s victory at Lord’s, a result (by
211 runs) which significantly came by a not dissimilar margin to those
first-knock runs he amassed.
As off-colour as the Proteas were in that Test match,
ultimately the weight of Root’s 234-ball vigil made the biggest difference in
the contest, and only served to indicate how one batsman getting properly
knuckled down and then prospering fully can influence outcomes in the five-day
It is not as though batsmen falling under the current SA
crop are traditionally averse to making centuries: before the NZ series or the
ongoing one for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, there was a pretty
For example, in the triumphant three-Test series in Australia
during last summer, as many as five tons flew off SA blades: 141 by JP Duminy
and 127 from Elgar in Perth, 104 by Quinton de Kock in Hobart, and 118 from Faf
du Plessis and Stephen Cook’s 104 in Adelaide.
Admittedly on home soil and against a limited Sri Lankan
side in the same season, there were also five by South Africans across the
clean-swept three Tests: one each from Messrs Cook, Elgar, De Kock, Duminy and
Speaking of Amla, he seems especially primed, as the senior
figure in the Proteas ranks, for the possibility of getting to three figures
again at The Oval, where his 311 not out in the last English-staged bilateral
series of 2012 is the stuff of folklore – still the only time a South African
has made a “treble”.
He would get another ton – 121 in the final Test at Lord’s
- en route to the 2-0 victory (with one draw) then, and there were also
weighty centuries along the way from Jacques Kallis (182 not out), Alviro
Petersen (182) and Graeme Smith (131).
Amla is gradually building a personal head of steam on the
present tour, considering his successive innings of 78 and 87 in the Nottingham
The Oval has an attractive reputation - if you are a
batsman, that is - for allowing really major scores by individuals, something
confirmed in the last Test staged there.
In the 2016 series between England and Pakistan, the
visitors earned a 10-wicket triumph, based strongly on veteran (now retired)
Younis Khan’s 218 and a supportive 109 from Asad Shafiq; Moeen Ali also landed
a century for the losing side.
But if beefy scoring is an enduring Oval hallmark, matches
also tend to move fairly quickly there, allowing for a good possibility of
results: there has only been one draw in the last nine Tests at the Kennington
England have a ropey record at The Oval in recent times …
one win, a draw and three reverses from their last five Tests, beginning with
South Africa’s thumping win on that prior-mentioned 2012 trek.
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