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
For only the third time in his illustrious
career, Amla has now gone nine knocks without as much as a half-century to
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
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 ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing