Proteas labouring in Asia: Here’s why

2018-07-18 13:48
Dean Elgar celebrates his ton at Newlands (Gallo).

Cape Town - South Africa having a tough time of it batting-wise at Test level in recent years on the Subcontinent should perhaps come as no special surprise to those who monitor the Proteas’ fortunes closely.

For the stark truth is that the nucleus of their current frontline batting stocks, still relative rookies there, pretty continually find success at the crease in those conditions elusive: the feeble surrender of the first Test against Sri Lanka was simply an extension of the statistical phenomenon.

The way they were knocked over like skittles in Galle did little to suggest a rapid bounce-back to share the series is just around the corner in Colombo from Friday, although hope springs eternal.

Unfortunately the present group of SA batsmen, broadly speaking, lack the psychological satisfaction of knowing through prior experience that they can, indeed, prosper on the patience- and technique-testing Asian pitches.

The seasoned, indisputably globally-proven Hashim Amla apart (and even he is grappling with the hallmark of much-reduced returns of late), the rest of the top six in the order, as presently constituted, have not yet genuinely broken the barrier of confirming for themselves that consistent delivery in such conditions is possible.

So in short, they may all, to varying extents, be suffering from the “yips” on the Subcontinent, at least as far as five-day combat is concerned.

For that to change, actually registering some major scores - when you get in on the Subcontinent, you can get really in - would do the various players in the group the power of good.

Instead they create the impression in several cases that there is still a mental hangover from that disastrous tour of India in late 2015, the four-Test series surrendered 3-0.

It is difficult not to sympathise, if so, because there was worldwide debate at the time about the fitness of those pitches for Test service; some turned squarely or spat violently from the start and made life just too much of a lottery even for some of India’s more streetwise stroke-players in the circumstances.

Also, the current - sadly only two-Test - series against the ‘Lankans is the first for the Proteas back on the Subcontinent since wrestling the serpents lurking in those Indian surfaces almost three years back.

Yet the fact remains that, as things stand, there is a trend - perhaps a deepening one, rather than shifting the other way around - of supposed South African “cream” batsmen showing notably worse levels of statistical success in Asia than from their records elsewhere.

It is in sharp contrast to a slightly earlier generation of steely Proteas batsmen, which also goes a long way to explaining why the current national side looks discernibly fallible batting-wise in Asia, whereas there was a seriously praiseworthy phase between 2007 and early 2015 when South Africa did not lose a Subcontinent series in eight and their survival instincts were increasingly well-developed.

During that period that can almost be described as “golden” - admittedly there were a few very short series, and some stalemates - the tourists featured in their XIs several durable figures who, in contrast to the 2018 Proteas, sported better run-amassing records in those parts of the world than they even did overall.

Long-time captain and bulldog-like opening batsman Graeme Smith was a case in point during those times.

The beefy left-hander played 117 Tests overall, and retired with an average of 48.25, but from 21 appearances in Asia, it was a slightly superior 49.37.

Then there’s a certain Jacques Kallis: the legendary all-rounder’s career average of 55.37 is sublime in itself, yet on the Subcontinent he cashed in to a greater degree: 25 Tests, average 55.62.

Perhaps even more tellingly - considering how recently and unexpectedly he quit the international scene, naturally leaving a depressingly enormous void - AB de Villiers ended with an average of 50.66 (114 Tests) but was still more imperious in Asian conditions (54.56 in 21 Tests).

Self-belief a strong factor in his routinely dynamic game, De Villiers also notched his career-best score in that general neck of the woods – 278 not out against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi in 2010.

With 24 Subcontinental appearances to his name, veteran Amla is the only Test incumbent among the frontline batting department to boast a better Asian average (49.56) than overall (47.60).

He has produced marathon vigils in most Subcontinent countries, including that jaw-dropping personal series in India during 2010 when he made a double-century and two “singles” in a total of just three required innings during that bilateral tussle.

His recent struggles, however, extend to Asia: not even a half-century in his last 11 knocks there; a harmful development for the reasonably inexperienced SA team as he is always the biggest hope by reputation of being able to drop anchor at the crease for a day or more.

“Been there, done that” … it is naturally an important factor when you weigh up the likelihood of a player to prosper richly in particular circumstances.

Taking Amla aside, a glance at the information below makes you realise that awfully few of the current Test batsmen have yet ticked the box properly for bumper harvests on the Subcontinent:

Dean Elgar

Career: 50 Tests, 3,206 runs at 41.63

In Asia: 10 Tests, 376 runs at 25.06

Aiden Markram

Career: 11 Tests, 1,019 runs at 50.95

In Asia: 1 Test, 19 runs at 9.5

Temba Bavuma

Career: 30 Tests, 1,414 runs at 33.66

In Asia: 4 Tests, 129 runs at 25.80

Faf du Plessis

Career: 53 Tests, 3,247 runs at 42.72

In Asia: 11 Tests, 348 runs at 21.75

Quinton de Kock

Career: 34 Tests, 1,885 runs at 36.96

In Asia: 4 Tests, 137 runs at 19.57

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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