Cape Town – The fair and decent intention,
you have to imagine, is still for Dane Vilas to have the relative luxury of the
entire, four-game current series against India to show his mettle for the
Proteas in Test cricket.
Only there may, suddenly, be little further
room for fairness and decency if South Africa crash to a second successive
defeat in Bangalore over the next few days and find themselves urgently needing
a pair of bounce-back victories themselves if they are to hold onto a proud
unbeaten away record in the format since 2006.
The still-rookie (albeit 30 years old)
wicketkeeper-batsman at this level will play only his third Test match at the M
Chinnaswamy Stadium from Saturday – in his first, a rain-blighted affair in
Bangladesh, he didn’t even get to take guard – yet probably be all too aware
that a significant batting contribution may be required if he is to retain his
berth for the full duration of the series.
Let’s face it, giving a player a suitably settled
trial run is a much more comfortable exercise to undertake when you are
winning, or at least not losing, Test matches.
Whether justifiably or not, it is difficult
to believe that Vilas’s place won’t come under fairly concentrated scrutiny if
the world’s top-ranked Proteas go a rare 0-2 down, he fails to deliver with the
blade a la Mohali, and a deepening form of collective soul-searching takes root
in the travelling camp.
It seems only right at this point to stress
that the Cape Cobras stalwart did commendably little wrong with his glove-work
a few days ago, on a much-debated pitch which must have made his specialist
trade as challenging as batting was, what with balls from the faster men often
coming through inconveniently low and dust billowing about whenever disturbed
as he stood up to the stumps.
But the increasing trend – or make that
necessity – is for your wicketkeeper to be deemed a genuine contributor as
batsman, more often than not from a position without the top seven these days.
Gone is the era when, say, one of Vilas’s
notable ‘keeping predecessors at provincial level in Cape Town, the
oft-immaculate Richie Ryall of the period before and just beyond unity, could
be excused for not offering any runs potential much above his regular
stationing at No 10 or even 11 in the order for the Western Province Currie Cup
Vilas is no Ryall: his first-class batting
average stands at an acceptable shade above 40, whereas that of the
straight-blade latter – he was always a good stonewalling night-watchman type,
mind – was a modest 16.13.
Ryall never came close to a century; Vilas
So this is not intended as any rather
But it is a gentle reminder that Vilas
playing closer to his known competence at the crease would be a welcome
development as South Africa seek to atone for what happened to them in Mohali.
He was bundled out for one and seven in the
first Test, showing some fledgling signs of resilience the second time around,
but having fallen victim to an ill-fated, skied sweep off the off-spinning
dangerman Ravichandran Ashwin after a mere three-ball vigil in the first knock.
Any repeat of such low productivity on the
scoreboard at Bangalore, especially if it is accompanied by broader SA
“difficulty” in this contest, and Vilas will be on more dangerous ground when
it comes to determining the XI for the third Test in Nagpur.
Although it is no longer policy for the
Proteas to use the amazingly versatile AB de Villiers as Test gloveman, he is
usually willing to do the job in emergency or team balance-related situations,
and there may be a fresh clamour for the ace stroke-player to temporarily take
over, thus freeing up either another dedicated batting or bowling berth, if
radical action is required to strike back in the series.
Similarly, when the team eventually arrives
back in South Africa for the domestic summer’s headline series against England,
Vilas knows that multi-talented wunderkind Quinton de Kock will also be pushing
with some vigour for a return to the side.
Maybe Bangalore won’t prove to be some sort
of unreasonably premature, make-or-break occasion for the incumbent
Like it or not, though, there is just a
chance it will ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing