Oz Test: SA’s batting dangerously unsettled

2018-02-26 14:18
Aiden Markram (Gallo)

Cape Town – The Proteas have had to make one of their hastiest switch-overs between major tours of this country – only four full days -- as Australia lie in wait for them in the first Test at Kingsmead from Thursday.

Perhaps it should be branded a blessing that, in terms of player personnel, only wicketkeeper/batsman Heinrich Klaasen, not even favoured to play in Durban at this stage, makes the rapid transition from the losing Twenty20 squad against India to the recently-revealed five-day group.

That is because kingpin stroke-player AB de Villiers was unable to play any role in the three-game T20 series, and all-rounders Andile Phehlukwayo and Chris Morris have been omitted from the Test plans.

But the Proteas brains trust must nevertheless wipe their strategic slate clean with indecent urgency now to have their team and tactics sorted out in time for the first of four blue-chip encounters with the Baggy Greens, who won a three-day fixture against SA ‘A’ at Benoni as a useful acclimatiser.

Frankly, there is a great sense of volatility around the Proteas’ preparedness – and especially as it affects the batting department.

Whilst most of their pace arsenal should hit the ground running after curtailed or no activity in the limited-overs portion of India’s tour, the injury-related status of several of their frontline batsmen must make head coach Ottis Gibson and company secretly wish the series was starting a week later.

It will be touch and go for fitness green lights in at least a couple of SA cases at Kingsmead, and nor is it as if the squad contains a battery of willow-wielders in noticeably healthy form: regrettably it doesn’t.

Indeed, the uncertainty over whether certain most valued players will be ready for action could also have a key bearing on how the home team shape their XI on Thursday; there is the stubbornly ongoing quandary of whether to go in with six batsmen or seven.

Here is a short summary of the fortunes (or rather tribulations, in several instances) in recent weeks of the current “big six” batsmen in the Proteas Test squad, which will probably only aggravate any sense of unease among home enthusiasts:

Aiden Markram

For all his undoubted potential, the young opener has found life a lot tougher since he ended the 2017 calendar year with yet another major innings: 125 in the painfully one-sided Boxing Day Test against Zimbabwe.

But it’s been mostly lean pickings for him since, with just one genuinely meaty knock (94 in the Centurion Test against India) in a dozen innings.

That includes a traumatic ODI series both as acting captain and batsman, SA losing 5-1 and Markram himself managing a top score of only 32.

The Proteas will have to hope the 23-year-old’s confidence has not been too dented ahead of his first exposure to the unforgiving, heavy-sledging Aussies …

Dean Elgar

Like Markram, at least the nuggety co-opener, who will be a key resister to the frisky Australian attack, is fully fit!

He will enter the first Test harbouring rightful memories of his incredibly gutsy, unbeaten 86 in the second innings of the controversial Wanderers third (dead-rubber) Test against India.

But Elgar is also rather short of a decent gallop since: he has played in two Sunfoil Series matches for the Titans, but registered only 24 and 27 against the Cobras (Benoni) and 17 against the Knights (Bloemfontein).

Hashim Amla

Like Elgar, the veteran accumulator offered stout resistance (61 and 52) on that Bullring green-top against India.

But the man who turns 35 during the Australian series also didn’t set the world alight in the ODIs, earning just one half-century (71 at Port Elizabeth) in six opportunities at the crease.

AB de Villiers

It’s been an “in and out” sort of summer for the hard-hitting entertainer … you might say something that applies as much to his batting as his injury-related status.

De Villiers started his Test comeback to the Proteas fold encouragingly with a half-century in the Zimbabwe once-off, and then notching exactly 200 runs across the pivotal first two Tests against India.

But then he got a double failure (five and six) at the Wanderers, and his limited-overs usage was significantly curtailed by first a finger injury and then a knee problem that leaves him possibly still off 100 percent physically for the first Test against Oz.

In three ODIs against the Indians, there wasn’t too much to shout about by his lofty standards: 26, 6 and 30.

Faf du Plessis

The skipper possibly remains the most tenuous of all “recovering” players in the countdown to Kingsmead.

If he does make the cut, his own finger injury may not wholly have gone through its anticipated rehab time.

The big thing with tenacious right-hander Du Plessis is that he hasn’t played competitive cricket since February 1 … but on the positive side, it was an ODI innings of 120 against the Indians, and in Durban for good measure.

Quinton de Kock

His gifts as both a ‘keeper and batsman beyond doubt, De Kock has nevertheless, almost unfathomably, had an absolutely wretched time of things at the crease – a situation going back some three months or so.

He found success desperately hard to come by throughout the Indian Test series, and then didn’t catch fire in either of his two ODIs before he was side-lined with a wrist problem, either.

A few days back, as part of his desperate quest to get back into the groove in time for the Aussies, he played for Easterns against North West in the modest Sunfoil 3-Day Cup, at least lasting some 70 minutes in the first innings for 43 … although he got a seven-ball duck next time around.

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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