Proteas’ be­witch­ing bat­ting woes con­tinue

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

Day 4 of 5: Eng­land 353 and 313/8 decl. South Africa 175 and 117/4

WHO­EVER be­comes South Africa’s next coach has an enor­mous task on his hands to fix the team’s bat­ting, which has been alarm­ingly in­con­sis­tent over the last two years.

In In­dia in 2015 it was easy to ex­plain away the prob­lems given the rag­ing turn­ers pre­pared for two of the Tests there. It was also a long tour, and the South Africans were sim­ply worn down.

There’s been some bad se­lec­tion – Sti­aan van Zyl was re­tained far too long as an opener – while JP Du­miny was given a few too many chances. Of course, the nat­u­ral ques­tion to ask is, who in do­mes­tic cricket can be picked?

In truth two op­tions – The­u­nis de Bruyn and Ai­den Markram – are al­ready in this squad. As is Heino Kuhn, the form bats­men on the do­mes­tic scene in the last two years.

South Africa has strug­gled to notch up big to­tals in the last cou­ple of years go­ing past 400 only six times in 22 Tests – two of those com­ing against Sri Lanka at home last sum­mer.

With the ex­cep­tion of Temba Bavuma, whose tem­per­a­ment and tech­nique have made him an im­por­tant cog in the mid­dle or­der, Quin­ton de Kock – whose con­tri­bu­tions from the No 7 po­si­tion of­ten pulled the side out of the mire last sum­mer – and Dean El­gar, whose re­silience has been al­lied to con­sis­tency in the last 18 months, South Africa’s bat­ting can’t be said to be se­cure.

They’ve tried to change open­ers – El­gar’s had five dif­fer­ent open­ing part­ners in the last 22 Tests. They’ve also shifted around the mid­dle or­der, moved from seven front-line bats­men to six in this se­ries and now shifted De Kock from seven to No 4 to try and solve the prob­lem with that in­con­sis­tency, but noth­ing’s worked.

Du Plessis said be­fore this Test he wasn’t con­cerned at the lack of hun­dreds from his bats­men in the last four and half matches – cit­ing green pitches as an ex­cuse. That may just be an at­tempt by the cap­tain to take the pres­sure off his bats­men – but i has not worked in this match.

On the one hand, Eng­land’s bowlers de­serve credit for the ac­cu­racy and con­sis­tency they’ve shown here.

They kept Hashim Amla in a vice-like grip through­out his 49 minute stay at the crease yes­ter­day – re­lent­lessly at­tack­ing his off-stump – although as Graeme Smith pointed out on ra­dio com­men­tary, he didn’t feel that South Africa’s most ex­pe­ri­enced player was as­sertive enough.

Kuhn is jump­ing around too much, Amla is un­der pres­sure be­cause he’s usu­ally ar­riv­ing at the crease too early, while De Kock is grow­ing ac­cus­tomed to his new po­si­tion and Du Plessis has shoul­dered arms to two straight balls in this Test. While the de­ci­sion to utilise De Kock at No 4 on the sur­face seems a good one, it may be one spot too high in the or­der, given he will be ex­posed to fresh Maybe not a Root clas­sic, but the Eng­land cap­tain again looked in fine fet­tle yes­ter­day com­pil­ing a 29th Test half-cen­tury. A mea­sure of Root’s con­sis­tency is that it is the ninth Test match in a row in which he’s made 50 in at least one in­nings. Be­ing a bats­men who sets high stan­dards for him­self, Root will be fu­ri­ous that he has only scored two cen­turies in that se­quence – one of which came at the start of this se­ries. Heino Kuhn’s scored 78 runs in six in­nings in this se­ries. You could cer­tainly jus­tify the se­lec­tors’s call in pick­ing him given his re­cent form and the paucity of op­tions at the top of the or­der. But he’s looked jumpy against the new ball and even in his best in­nings so far, even the 34 he made at Trent Bridge wasn’t all that se­cure. Would the se­lec­tors be brave enough to call up Ai­den Markram or is Kuhn de­serv­ing of an­other go? To be fair to him, he’s not the only prob­lem with South Africa’s bat­ting at the mo­ment. There’s X-fac­tor and then there’s no fac­tor and Mor­ris,pic­tured, – much like Wayne Par­nell – moves bowlers and a harder ball, all while car­ry­ing a heavy work­load as the wick­et­keeper.

In this Test, he’s been dis­missed twice when aim­ing to hit the full mov­ing ball to mid­wicket, clos­ing the face and in the first in­nings get­ting caught in the gully off the lead­ing edge, while in the sec­ond dig yes­ter­day, he was bowled by Ben Stokes.

South Africa were left the task of bat­ting 138 overs to save the Test when Joe Root de­clared at too vi­o­lently be­tween the two. He re­cov­ered well at Trent Bridge and bowled a cou­ple of mean spells up there to help South Africa win. Here, his line and length has been er­ratic and when South Africa have needed to halt the game, he’s been in­ca­pable of do­ing so. In 28 overs in this Test, he’s bowled one maiden and con­ceded 161 runs. The se­lec­tors will stick with him for now, you’d think. But the onus is on Mor­ris to find a level in his play that will

make him re­li­able to his cap­tain. tea, with a lead of 491 runs. The runs were in­con­se­quen­tial but this was to be an ex­am­i­na­tion of South Africa’s fight­ing qual­i­ties.

Only El­gar and Bavuma have shown the stom­ach for it, bat­tling through 21 overs yes­ter­day evening in a part­ner­ship that is cur­rently worth 65 runs.

Only thrice have teams suc­cess­fully bat­ted through the last day of a Test when they’ve been four wick­ets down; Michael Ather­ton’s fa­mous 185 at the Wan­der­ers “When I look at him he doesn’t pro­vide me with a lot of con­fi­dence. The way that he plays, Aus­tralia might be quite a scary place for him.” – Graeme Smith on Keat­ing Jen­nings

It’s go­ing to be warm to­mor­row, with fore­casts sug­gest­ing 21 de­grees cel­cius as a max­i­mum. The pitch re­mains help­ful for bowlers, but it is by no means a mine­field. Be­cause most of the match has taken place in cool tem­per­a­tures un­der dark skies, what­ever mois­ture still re­mains will be baked out and it should still be good for bat­ting. The odd ball is keep­ing low, but that’s not too dis­con­cert­ing and there isn’t dras­tic turn like there was at Lord’s. in 1995 saw Eng­land draw there, Matthew Prior hung on with the tail in Auck­land in 2013 for Eng­land and Du Plessis, on de­but at Ade­laide in 2012 did the same for South Africa against the Aus­tralians.

So, El­gar (72*) and Bavuma (16*) don’t have far to look for in­spi­ra­tion or ad­vice.

If they do, they’ll be cel­e­brated, but that doesn’t mean South Africa’s bat­ting foibles would have been solved.

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