TELFORD VICE at Seddon Park
THE debate over South Africa’s decision to drop Stephen Cook and hand Theunis de Bruyn his first cap lasted nine minutes here on Saturday.
That’s how long De Bruyn took to leave the first ball he faced in test cricket, block the second, and steer the third to second slip off the edge of his limp, angled bat.
De Bruyn had taken guard at No. 3 in five of his six previous innings in first-class cricket for the Knights, scoring two centuries and two half-centuries.
Sounds like an argument, but should anyone other than a proven opener bat at the top of the order?
To send a No. 3 out there is nowhere as outrageous as the Springboks deploying Gerrie Sonnekus, a No. 8, at scrumhalf against the British Lions at the Boet Erasmus in 1974.
But, as Stiaan van Zyl would attest, opening the batting is a job best left to opening batsmen.
Then again, Cook has scored 17 runs in four innings in this series. No-one could do much worse.
Especially against a New Zealand attack denied their regular new-ball pair, Trent Boult and Tim Southee, by injury.
But Cook earned Hashim Amla’s empathy: “You always believe, as a batsman, that if you keep doing the hard work and sticking to your processes the best that you can that runs will come your way at some stage or another.
“Playing is the only way for the runs to come.”
De Bruyn, who has opened in 16 of his 63 first-class innings, but not for two years, looked like an opener when he walked to the middle with Dean Elgar. He took guard like an opener and faced his first two balls like an opener.
But it takes a lot more than that to be an opener.
Which might make you wonder why South Africa didn’t bring a spare specialist opener on tour instead of, as Faf du Plessis said on Friday, “a truckload of seamers”.
The answer is that fast bowlers wear out faster than a cheap suit goes shiny. Not that opening batsmen are immune to injury: show us a stalwart opener and we’ll show you someone who has broken a finger.
But openers are expected to come with stoicism as standard, which leads to them being persisted with where others are dropped.
Others like JP Duminy, who has scored one century in his last dozen test innings and, worse, given his wicket away too easily.
Saturday’s gift was a flap to fine leg, a dereliction of the duty he had to play in a manner befitting a team who had lost both openers with five runs scored.
Why was Duminy, and not Cook, not dropped?
It’s a question loaded with all the complexities of South African reality.
Because he has scored four times as many runs as Cook – 70 – and taken four wickets.
Because South Africa’s bigger problems are nearer the top of the order than the middle.
Because transformation is important.
Saturday’s selection means Dane Piedt travelled the almost 12 000 kilometres from Cape Town to Hamilton for the sake of updating his Proteas kit collection.
And that Heinrich Klaassen has been to Dunedin, Wellington and now Hamilton without Kiwis having the slightest idea who he is.
He’s the reserve wicketkeeper, remember, who would’ve played here had a device not been bespoke tailored to protect Quinton de Kock’s bashed finger.
Wayne Parnell can tell Klaassen, from memory, what it feels like to actually play international cricket on their long trip home, which started on Sunday.
Cook? Still here, stoically.