Proteas: Key fortnight for Test ‘specialists’

2016-07-26 11:56
Temba Bavuma (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg – Ring-rusty Proteas Test batsmen Stephen Cook, Temba Bavuma and Dean Elgar have an important couple of weeks ahead.

The three incumbents of berths in the five-day national side get a necessary opportunity then to fine-tune their skills at the crease for the fast-looming two-Test series against New Zealand beginning at Kingsmead on August 19 – the earliest in the season that this format has yet been played in South Africa.

Cook, Bavuma and Elgar are different cases to team-mates like captain AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, who are very much part of the booming limited-overs roster in global cricket, including a proliferation of franchise or international Twenty20 tournaments.

Whereas De Villiers and company have mostly had plenty of middle time in recent months and barely experienced the benefits of an off-season, the first-named trio mentioned could almost be termed more “old-fashioned” first-class customers, if you like.

That means they have had very little cricket for several months and will not tackle the Black Caps with recent high-volume runs beneath their belts.

Which is why their presence in a series of two unofficial Tests between South Africa ‘A’ and their Australian counterparts, beginning in Brisbane on Saturday, is fairly reassuring and a golden chance to knuckle down for some healthy vigils if they can.

Cook, the captain, and Elgar have already flown to Australia to prepare for the mini-series, whilst Bavuma leaves in a hurry from here on Wednesday; his departure was deliberately delayed as he is among three candidates for the Test Cricketer of the Year laurel – the others are Kagiso Rabada and Hashim Amla -- at Tuesday’s annual CSA Awards banquet in Sandton.

Speaking to Sport24 at Monday’s celebration of 25 years of unity in South African cricket, Bavuma, who earned a poignant maiden Test century against England at Newlands last season, said he had enjoyed a mental break in the first part of winter but relished the chance to get in some good-quality cricket Down Under – the solid-looking SA ‘A’ side will face bowlers of the calibre of Pat Cummins, Scott Boland and Ashton Agar.

“It’s not as if I have been too out of touch with the game recently, because I was among the batsmen who went to India in May for (CSA’s annual) spin camp,” Bavuma said.

But his last competitive cricket, as with the left-handed Elgar, nevertheless came at the tail-end of the Sunfoil Series in early April.

Cook, who made a debut hundred in the dead-rubber final Test against the English at Centurion, has cashed in encouragingly much more recently on the earlier SA ‘A’ mission to neighbouring Zimbabwe, where they won the two-game unofficial Test series 1-0.

The seasoned Lions campaigner rattled up 251 personal runs from three knocks, including one of 143.

Apart from the presence of Cook, Elgar and Bavuma on the Aussie trip, SA ‘A’ will also give a useful further bowling “gallop” to Test seamer Vernon Philander, fighting back to best levels after long-term injury, and the Proteas’ emerging off-spinner in the longest format, Dane Piedt.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  temba bavuma  |  stephen cook  |  dean elgar  |  cricket


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