I don’t mean to be a grinch, but…

CityPress - - Sport - Stu­art Long­bot­tom @Long­bot­tom_69 is an arm­chair cricket critic. Catch his next col­umn mid-Jan­uary. Happy New Year

Usu­ally by this time of the year, I am deliri­ous with fes­tive cheer and the “spirit of giv­ing” we’ve all been con­di­tioned to em­brace.

But this year it’s dif­fer­ent. I’m not sure if it’s be­cause of all the re­cent chat­ter among my paler-faced peers re­gard­ing their wish to “get the hell out of here” in light of our pres­i­dent’s re­cent not-so-slick moves, or if it’s be­cause of the near cer­tainty of As­ton Villa’s rel­e­ga­tion from the English Premier League, but things are def­i­nitely not “merry”.

On top of this, the Proteas test team is about to em­bark on a home se­ries against Eng­land with some key ques­tions from their un­suc­cess­ful tour of In­dia left un­re­solved. The most glar­ing un­cer­tainty is that of find­ing a re­li­able, full-time wick­et­keeper who can bat.

Last week, we learnt that AB de Vil­liers will reprise, with re­luc­tance I’m sure, the role of wick­et­keeper for at least two of the four tests against Eng­land. This af­ter Dane Vi­las, who kept in the test se­ries in In­dia, failed to make much of an im­pact with the bat.

De Vil­liers has in the past ex­pressed that be­ing be­hind the stumps is not ideal for him, so per­haps keep­ing wicket will be just too much added pres­sure for him to shine when it comes to what he does best – bat.

If the Proteas haven’t found sta­bil­ity in their bat­ting by Box­ing Day, when the first test be­gins, there’s no doubt the Eng­land pace pair­ing of James An­der­son and Stu­art Broad, with an im­pres­sive 741 test wick­ets be­tween them, will sniff out our de­fi­cien­cies and tear us apart.

Then there’s the ques­tion of Hashim Amla’s cap­taincy. If the se­ries against In­dia is any­thing to go by, it seems he hasn’t yet mas­tered the pres­sures that go with lead­ing a pre­mier test team.

His bowl­ing choices on the sub­con­ti­nent were iffy at best, es­pe­cially when he was pushed to be in­ven­tive in the face of tough con­di­tions and in­juries to two of his key bowlers.

This, in all like­li­hood, neg­a­tively af­fected his abil­ity to do what he does best – con­cen­trate for long pe­ri­ods when he’s out in the mid­dle and bat to win or save test matches. Aver­ag­ing just 16.85 in the four tests against In­dia is abysmal by any top-or­der bats­man’s stan­dards, let alone Amla’s.

In a re­cent blog post on Su­perS­port.com, Faf du Plessis, an­other un­der­achiever in the In­dia test se­ries, reck­oned the Proteas test team had “a long way to go”.

He added that “this team has to find its feet and find them quickly. It needs to es­tab­lish it­self and start putting in some good per­for­mances.” Never one to state the ob­vi­ous, that Faf.

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