Proteas: batting gremlins still lurk

2017-01-02 20:10
JP Dumini celebrates. (Ryan Pierse, Getty Images)
Cape Town - Dean Elgar has been doing a particularly tigerish job of late in disguising deficiencies in the broader South African batting department.

Despite the diminutive left-hander’s own, century-making tenacity and assuredness - a commendable follow-up to his involvement in twin three-figure opening stands at St George’s Park - South Africa were given a general little nudge again at Newlands on Monday that the return of AB de Villiers to the batting order, once finally deemed fit again, will crucially stiffen it up.

The relative difficulty of the conditions, especially in the overcast first session of the second Test against Sri Lanka after the hosts had been inserted, had to be taken into account on day one of the New Year Test before a packed house.

And the close-of-play status of the Proteas ended up being anything but a panic-stations situation, as a spirited clawback to 297 for six tilted the balance a fair bit in their favour after hopeful early inroads from the Sri Lankans.

Elgar was the confident and dedicated commander of the stabilising initiative, negotiating all but five-and-a-bit of the 90 overs for his career-best 129 and finding a critical partner in the turnaround in the shape of admirable Quinton de Kock, who continues to prosper greatly in the Test arena as a lower middle-order stroke-player.

Their 103-run alliance for the sixth wicket rocked the tourists back on their heels, and with the free-spirited De Kock still there overnight on 68, even 400 may yet be within reach of the Proteas for their first-dig total.  

All that said, a certain vulnerability has been taking potentially harmful root amidst the top six of the batting department this summer, at least statistically speaking.

Much about the national side is ticking along quite admirably, thank you very much ... but that doesn’t fully cover up the fact that inconsistent returns are being experienced in some pretty key positions in the order.

The phenomenon includes the supposed prime, bedrock slots of Nos 3 and 4, where the traditionally heavy-scoring but suddenly more runs-shy Hashim Amla is labouring unexpectedly at “first drop” and JP Duminy, very debatably given the chore at four this season, similarly not delivering the kind of figures expected in his prestigious berth.

Seasoned Amla played a few sumptuous strokes en route to his 29, but in what is becoming a strangely habitual event for the near 34-year-old, he got in and got out, as it were, leaving a biggish gap between bat and pad as his timber was rattled by teenage tearaway Lahiru Kumara.

For only the third time in his illustrious career, Amla has now gone nine knocks without as much as a half-century to boast.

He hardly seems hopelessly out of nick, but at the same time looks a pale imitation right now of the former, metronomic dominator.

Amla naturally deserves plenty of further liberty to sort things out for himself and few would bet confidently against that happening.

But the same luxury may not apply to Duminy, who was strangled down the leg side for a duck on Monday - a ball that climbed on him more than he would have anticipated in his infancy at the crease - but continues, when all is said and done, to glaringly under-deliver for appropriate weight of runs at No 4.

His latest unsatisfactory outcome in the berth brings his tally, since regular promotion to the slot just after mid-2016, to 374 runs at ho-hum 34, even if that is still a touch better than his career average of 32.67.

Duminy does look a more mature and calmer character these days, and when he is on song he can be near-sublime, but that hallmark still just doesn’t come often enough.

Post-isolation South Africa are used, frankly, to notably better returns from No 4 batsmen: Daryll Cullinan averaged 46.13 in his fairly protracted time there, and the mighty Jacques Kallis, almost always in that post between 2001 and 2013, sported a blistering 61.86 from whenever he graced the position in Tests.

Meanwhile, in the No 6 slot, Temba Bavuma is in something a mini-slump after his encouraging period of development; he has notched only 50 runs from his last five turns at the crease and fell in unnecessarily soft, suckered fashion on Friday.

All of this adds up to one thing, really: as if we didn’t know it already, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers will enhance this side quite shortly, wherever he slots into the positional jigsaw ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sri lanka  |  proteas  |  cape town  |  cricket


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