Cape Town - It was always likely to exhibit a certain vulnerability once AB de Villiers announced he was debatably scaling back his volume of Test cricket … and the phenomenon appears to have duly come home to roost to an extent.
Minus the 8 074-run cracking strokeplayer, South Africa’s batting line-up has just begun to struggle in recent Test matches - even if the national side are hardly on a noticeable downer results-wise - to show healthy collective delivery and a sense of broad swagger.
It is cause for at least a mild degree of trepidation among Proteas enthusiasts as the second of three contests against New Zealand begins in Wellington in the early hours of Thursday (SA time).
The first encounter was drawn - sadly from a tantalising, pretty evenly-poised situation - after the fifth day in Dunedin was washed out.
While New Zealand will be impeded themselves by the absence at the Basin Reserve of one of their own most trusted crease kingpins of recent years, now-injured Ross Taylor, the visitors’ brains trust must be just a little anxious about the slightly schizophrenic look to recent SA batting cards in the five-day format.
You could argue with some conviction that the trend has seeped into all of the last three Tests, even if two of them, both at home, still resulted in extremely wide-margin victories against Sri Lanka.
On the most recent occasion against the Black Caps at University Oval, South Africa’s first innings of 308 all out was marked by Dean Elgar, very much an in-form customer, amassing 45 percent of the runs himself (his personal best in Tests of 140).
While there is naturally also some cause for celebrating the very fact that a plucky individual can come to the fore to that extent in times of relative difficulty, three of the batsmen in the SA top four notching a paltry five runs between them is not the healthiest of occurrences.
Indeed, the whole Test ended up being a less than glittering one for the specific trio in question: Stephen Cook got three and nought, Hashim Amla one and 24, and JP Duminy one and then a 39 that might be described as containing “nine lives” along the way.
One Test earlier, against the limited ‘Lankans in Johannesburg, the Proteas only needed to bat once and 426 all out looks a fair-dinkum situation on paper.
But that total also disguises the fact that the innings was characterised by a massive partnership of 292 between the two centurions in it - Duminy 155 and Amla 134.
The rest of the batsmen only scratched together 113 runs between them, although some allowance must be made for a lower-order “push things on” risk-taking factor after the weighty Duminy/Amla alliance had a little belatedly provided a sturdy platform.
The earlier, traditional New Year Test at Newlands, however, also contained some first-knock gremlins by the host nation.
While 392 is an awful lot better than a kick in the teeth, again the scoreboard had a rather “unbalanced” look about it: there were tons from Elgar and Quinton de Kock, but ducks for Cook and Duminy and 10 from Temba Bavuma.
Across the formats on the current New Zealand tour, at least two of the regular SA specialist batsmen in Tests, Amla and Duminy, have been struggling to get to grips with local conditions, a special cause for some fretting when you consider that they occupy prestigious berths three and four in the Test line-up.
Duminy has played eight international innings in the Land of the Long White Cloud, getting 29 in the lone Twenty20 clash, then one, 34, 16, 25 and three in the ODIs, and then his lean combined 40 runs in the first Test.
The veteran, traditionally more domination-inclined Amla, meanwhile, is also finding it unusually hard to catch fire in often chilly New Zealand, having had seven knocks in a row against the Black Caps, across the ODI and Test codes, that have not produced as much as a half-century.
He turns 34 at the end of this month, and could do with a couple of vigils rather closer to his revered, normal service in the remaining pair of Test matches to dispel almost inevitable suggestions - assuming he instead continues to under-deliver - that his powers may be on the wane.
It will surprise this writer if the Proteas, admirably keen on continuity these days and more often than not rewarded for it in the results column, make any changes to the batting department for Wellington, thus leaving the 24-year-old, uncapped Theunis de Bruyn kicking his heels for a bit longer.
But if one or two stuttering individuals again flounder at the Basin Reserve, there will be an increasingly legitimate case for him being pressed into service at Hamilton in the series climax ...
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