Proteas on the go

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xa­ban­isa sports@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Simx­a­ban­isa

Acou­ple of days ago, I was asked dur­ing a pod­cast what changes I would make to the Proteas side cur­rently play­ing against Eng­land in the sec­ond of four tests in light of their 211run de­feat in the first.

An un­spo­ken def­i­ni­tion of a key­board war­rior is that they spend their lives mak­ing up lists of teams that will never play on any given Satur­day, so off I went with my changes.

I’d move Quin­ton de Kock all the way up the or­der to open; shunt Heino Kuhn down to seven and give him the wick­et­keeper’s gloves; drop The­u­nis de Bruyn, in spite of his gutsy 48 at Lord’s, for re­turn­ing skip­per Faf du Plessis; and re­place Kag­iso Rabada with Chris Mor­ris.

This would have meant JP Du­miny, whose con­sis­tent un­der­achieve­ment in the mid­dle or­der has fi­nally emerged from un­der the radar, re­tained his place. My think­ing was that the Proteas’ re­tal­i­a­tion to the first test de­feat should be based on com­pro­mise and con­sol­i­da­tion.

In that sce­nario, three things would hap­pen.

De Kock would bat higher like every­one says he should, how­ever short-term the so­lu­tion; Du­miny stays there as an ex­pe­ri­enced bats­man and part-time spin­ner (a poor man’s Moeen Ali, if you will) that one hopes Du Plessis will again bring out the best in; and Mor­ris brings not only good pace and bounce, but also great catch­ing and the all-too im­por­tant lower or­der bat­ting to counter Eng­land’s.

But by the time the sec­ond test be­gan, the Proteas had dropped Du­miny and the un­lucky De Bruyn, and re­placed Rabada with Duanne Olivier. Other than prove be­yond a shadow of doubt that I’m no se­lec­tor, the de­ci­sion spoke vol­umes about the think­ing in the camp.

The first thing that catches the eye is that the de­ci­sions were as ob­vi­ous as they were ruth­less: while not re­warded for show­ing more fight than Du­miny has shown in most of his ca­reer in the first test, De Bruyn still took one for the team, while a strike bowler such as Rabada was re­placed by an­other one in Olivier.

This was also an ag­gres­sive and proac­tive re­sponse to the first test loss in that, in­stead of cov­er­ing their bases by hav­ing too many bits-and-pieces play­ers, they have trusted their squad play­ers to do what it was they were se­lected to do.

The trust bit is em­pha­sised by the fact that, while Olivier had only played one test be­fore the cur­rent one – against a gun-shy Sri Lanka on a lively Wanderers sur­face ear­lier this year – he is be­ing backed to do what he was se­lected for af­ter tak­ing 52 wick­ets on the do­mes­tic scene.

All told, there seems to have been clar­ity of thought in the se­lec­tors and Du Plessis’ minds about the re­sponse, with none of the sen­ti­men­tal­ity that has clouded ra­tio­nal­ity at times in the past when it came to putting teams to­gether.

Also, and this is im­por­tant in the de­bate about whether AB de Vil­liers should con­tinue as one-day in­ter­na­tional cap­tain, the team and the think­ing within it is less skit­tish with Du Plessis around.

The ben­e­fits may not nec­es­sar­ily show them­selves in a win in this test, or – in a team boast­ing three out and out rook­ies – in­deed in this se­ries. But the en­cour­ag­ing thing is that the Proteas again feel like a team on the move and not one of com­pro­mise.

The co­nun­drum for most ob­servers must be the dif­fi­culty to rec­on­cile the side that car­ried all be­fore it from July last year to April, and the team whose wheels have spec­tac­u­larly come off in the past two months.

While the for­mats may not have been the same, clearly there can be a psy­cho­log­i­cal carry-over, if the ten­ta­tive first test per­for­mance is any­thing to go by. But the ques­tion to ask is if the Proteas re­ally can have be­come such a bad team in such a short space of time.

I sus­pect part of the an­swer to that comes from un­der­stand­ing that, when a team em­barks on a new cul­ture, there will be times when it bumps its head and goes back to what it knows. So, for the umpteenth time, here we go again.

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