Cape Town – At least initially, it seems South Africa will stick to their “seven batsmen” formula when they begin the short Test series against New Zealand at Kingsmead on August 19.
That appeared to be the sentiment from the Proteas’ selection convener Linda Zondi in an interview with Sport24 this week.
The squad for the two-game series against the Black Caps - the other will be at SuperSport Park, Centurion - is expected to be revealed next week.
The bat-heavy policy was favoured by earlier coach Gary Kirsten – although he usually had the luxury of a Jacques Kallis to beef the bowling attack as its fifth element – and incumbent Russell Domingo traditionally also seems more comfortable with the idea of having seven batsmen (including the wicketkeeper).
Minus the qualities of a legendary, fully-fledged all-rounder like Kallis these days, however, it can mean the Proteas are restricted to four bowlers, with additional bits-and-pieces spin input coming from Dean Elgar and/or JP Duminy if both are in the side – the latter’s place looks insecure after not even a half-century in his last 10 Test knocks.
There is always the option of shedding a batsman, getting emerging gloveman Quinton de Kock to shift upward to No 6, and inserting two bowling all-rounders into the mix at seven and eight; perhaps two of Vernon Philander, Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell.
That way, the Proteas would restore a proper five-man bowling unit, increasing the likelihood of completing the all-important “20 wickets” job on the opposition.
But reading between the lines Zondi – and perhaps his panel more broadly – are content with the status quo approach, which could even mean that the Proteas put out, at Kingsmead, the same batting seven as played in the dead-rubber final Test against England at Centurion last season.
SA earned a consolation but still thumping 280-run triumph, with a recognised batting list as follows: Cook, Elgar, Amla, De Villiers, Duminy, Bavuma, De Kock.
I asked Zondi whether he personally leaned, in general terms, one way or the other regarding a six-five or seven-four split between batsmen and bowlers in the Test team.
“I suppose you have to always consider in that (debate) how many of the batsmen at your top end, the guys in the top five or six, are actually performing,” he said.
“That goes a long way to determining whether you can feel (safe) about limiting your batting to six specialists rather than seven.”
With Duminy and another experience Test “possible” Faf du Plessis labouring in terms of recent Test form, it is possible to work out some of the sources of Zondi’s reservations.
“We need to ensure we have batting depth and the guys who are supposed to do it taking responsibility; that’s what we are striving for.
“There are also teams at the moment like England who have bowlers who offer you plenty with the bat – their Test team bats all the way to around nine at present.
“We have certainly looked at the option of using (two bowling all-rounders) just below the top six. But you know, is Vernon Philander good enough for No 7, even though we have seen before his capabilities at the crease? Can Morris or Parnell do the job there?
“It might be too high at the moment. In some cases, we have (reasonably inexperienced) bowlers who we would like to see just get their main skills and areas of focus right. We can’t simply throw people in the deep end and say ‘that’s your role now, at seven’; we have to be cautious because their bowling must not be neglected.”
“But those are options as we go along. There may be a time when we go with two all-rounders.”
You get the sense that time probably won’t be in late August, though...
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