The sacrifice that comes with batting for the Proteas

2019-01-02 13:53
Hashim Amla (Gallo)
Hashim Amla (Gallo)

Cape Town - Proteas opener Dean Elgar said after his gutsy 50 in the second innings of the Boxing Day Test at Centurion that South Africa was now the hardest place in the world to score runs in Test cricket. 

It is hard to argue with a guy that has taken bruises all over the world. 

Since coach Ottis Gibson and captain Faf du Plessis joined forces in August of 2017, there has been a clear shift in the way the South Africans are approaching their Test cricket. 

It starts with the curators and ends, often, in a Test match that is over well before the allotted five days. 

Du Plessis has made no secret of the fact that ground staff are asked to prepare wickets that benefit fast bowling. That is the area where Gibson feels the Proteas are strongest and where he wants to capitalise.

A combination of wicked lateral movement and unpredictable bounce, however, has made South African strips a nightmare for the batters over the last 18 months. 

In the Wanderers Test against India last year, the limits were pushed too far, and the match was very nearly called off because the wicket was deemed dangerous. 

It cost the Wanderers a strong slap on the wrists from the ICC and the ground is now one more poor wicket away from having international cricket taken away for a year. 

The scenes of the Wanderers will hopefully not be repeated, but even at Centurion on Boxing Day it was immediately clear that South Africa is now a place where big scores are hard to come by. 

A total of 30 wickets fell on the first two days - 15 on each - and the Test was over well inside three days. 

When one factors in that Gibson's philosophy favours moving the game forward on the scoreboard over occupying the crease, then it easy to see why the Proteas top order has had a frail look to it in recent series. 

For Du Plessis, struggling to score runs at home is part of a trade-off that comes with winning Tests.

"That is probably the one thing that separates us from other teams in the world ... we're okay with it," the skipper said on the eve of the second Test in Cape Town.

"In a perfect world everyone is scoring hundreds and everyone is doing really well, but our success rate in home conditions over the last few years has been at a very high percentage.

"It's been a little bit tougher on the batters at home so when you're playing against quality seam attacks, which most teams have, the numbers for the batters will drop a bit.

"We're okay with that. Our focus is to try and play winning cricket as often as we can."

Du Plessis himself made a rare pair of ducks in the first Test, but it is even more difficult for the likes of Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma, who are trying to solidify their positions as senior members of the side. 

"It is tough. I also want to be scoring hundreds and averaging 50, but it's a good mindset in our changeroom and it's something we speak about," Du Plessis said.

"You can look at our openers as an example. They are guys that front up to tough conditions all season. If it means failure, then as long as we're winning then the team buys into it."

The good news ahead of Cape Town is that Hashim Amla, grossly out of form heading into Boxing Day, played a knock of 63* at Centurion that saw his side over the line.

"Your senior players and big players need to put in performances. They set the tone for the younger guys to play with no pressure on their shoulders," Du Plessis added.

"It was important for Hash, not just in red ball cricket, to score some runs and relax. Hopefully that will be a big stepping stone for him in what is a big season for us."

Du Plessis said that he never doubted Amla's ability through his lean run.

"In my mind, Hash is like (Alastair) Cook from England," he said.

"People talk about him not scoring runs, but he is still the best that we've got in the team."

The second Test between the Proteas and Pakistan starts at 10:30 on Thursday. 

Read more on:    proteas  |  faf du plessis  |  hashim amla  |  cape town  |  cricket


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