Does proper cricket still need proper batting?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

“VERY, very poor.” Say what you like about Geoffrey Boycott — people do, more often what they don’t like about him — you’re never in doubt what he thinks. And that’s what he thinks about Keaton Jennings’ technique.

Boycott made his pronouncement on Test Match Special on Thursday after Jennings had jabbed at the ninth ball he faced and splintered it to third slip to record his second duck in five innings.

The stroke was as stiff as the delivery was subtle, one of those Vernon Philander specials that might have done for Boycott himself; a fuller, straighter effort set up by the ball before, which had skewed off the seam and made Jennings look like he was trying to get a key in the front door after a long night in the pub.

The edge found, Dean Elgar stopped moaning about whatever it was he would have been moaning about for long enough to dive forward and make a fine grab a stump’s width above The Oval’s turf. It was slick stuff all round, Jennings excepted.

But it would be unfair to pick on Jennings in a series that, going into the third test, had not produced an innings anywhere near as monumental as Hashim Amla’s pillar to patience and persistence at this very ground five years ago.

Not that Amla’s undefeated 311 has been easily matched on any score. Or has it?

Test cricket’s first triple century was scored in 1930, and 30 scores of 300 or more have been recorded. Half of those have been made since 2002 and four of them since Amla’s innings, a frequency influenced by the increased number of tests played today — it took cricket 21 years to reach 55 tests, which is how many were staged in 2001 alone.

But, Joe Root’s classy 190 in the first match of this series at Lord’s apart, no-one had scored a century going into the third test. And that’s despite 16 half-centuries being scored in the first two games.

One series does not a summer make, much less alter the way test cricket is played. But it will prompt us to ask whether the nature of longform batting is changing.

“That’s the biggest difference between the era of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis and this one,” Temba Bavuma said. “Batsmen then were able to get big hundreds.

“But what stands out with us is that on any given day someone can put in a performance. It might not be a hundred, it might not be five-for. But guys are willing to fight for the team.

“We’ve scrapped our way over the line. We’re not reliant on specific individuals. Everyone knows that if the opportunity’s there they should put their hand up for the team. It’s a collective effort.”

That said, as a specialist batsman, Bavuma knew better than to try and hide from his responsibility.

“That’s your role if you’re batting in the top six — to get in and get scores in excess of a hundred. Unfortunately, with the way the game goes, it doesn’t always happen.

“We’re definitely aware of it as the batsmen — it’s hanging in the room.”

Faf du Plessis, himself no shirker of marathon innings, might want to banish that thought from its hanging place.

“If you keep talking too much about it, it can derail you from keeping things really simple,” Du Plessis said. “If you’re hungry to make big plays for the team the hundreds will come.”

Much separates Boycott from Du Plessis in cricket and in life, but on that they no doubt agree.

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