TELFORD VICE in Manchester
IT’S the batting, stupid. Not that you needed to be clever to see that was the most broken piece of South Africa’s test campaign in England. The clever bit is fixing it. Here are the broad strokes of how to do that:
1. Prepare better batting pitches
That will mean removing the fast bowlers from their usual position at the top of South African cricket’s food chain, which will be easy enough for the Bangladesh series in September. Decent fast bowling on typical, not tweaked, South African pitches should keep the Bangladeshis under pressure. And good luck producing greentops in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein anyway.
The real test will come against India. The temptation to exact retribution for the diabolical surfaces South Africa were given in their series in India in November 2015 will be intense, but the resolve to rise above all that for the greater good of rebuilding the confidence of the batting unit must prevail.
2. Pick Aiden Markram to open the batting
Just as there were good reasons to pick Stephen Cook, there were good reasons to pick Heino Kuhn — and to not pick Markram in England. The selections of Cook and Kuhn weren’t mistakes, but they were part of a plan that did not work. Cook and Kuhn are the past. Markram is the future, a future that is hurtling towards South Africa at a speed higher than they would like.
It’s part of South Africa’s unhappy present that their biggest opening stand in eight innings in England was 21, and that the longest Kuhn and Dean Elgar spent at the crease together was nine overs.
They were each dismissed four times, but Elgar scored 50, 80 and 136 while Kuhn reached 20 only twice and never made it as far as 35.
So, bring on Markram. But if he is picked for the Bangladesh series and makes a pile of runs, let’s not get too excited: it’s only Bangladesh.
3. As Hashim himself will tell you, Amla is only human. So is AB de Villiers
“At times we competed with the bat and England also misfired but there was always one guy that took the game away from us and we didn’t have that one guy,” Faf du Plessis said.
“That guy” was Amla, whose place in the pantheon is assured. But he scored 18 more runs in this whole series than he did in his first innings in England in 2012. He was also five years younger.
For some, “that guy” was De Villiers. “I would love AB to play – we all know how good he is and we missed him, but we’ve spent too much time talking about when he is going to come back,” Du Plessis said.
“The hope of him coming back is something we need to move past. We need to find someone else who fulfills that role.
“I don’t expect him to come back into the test team.”
It’s not easy for a cricket culture that still hankers after Jacques Kallis — who retired from test cricket more than three years ago, for goodness’ sake — to accept that age is more than just a number.
Get it already, people: nothing and no-one lasts forever.
4. Now — and for the foreseeable future — batting at No. 4: Temba Bavuma
“Your number four needs to play the way the team needs him to play,” Du Plessis said.
With South Africa often in trouble when he took guard, Bavuma did that in spades. Along with Elgar and Amla, he was the only South African to face more than 300 balls in the series and he was third among the run-scorers.
“I love what I see in Temba’s character; he’s going to be an important leader for us in the team,” Du Plessis said. “I’m a big believer that, if you see that in somebody, you give them responsibility to bring the best out in them.
“When he batted at four he was our best player in really challenging conditions and that showed me that he has the capability of being South Africa’s No. 4 for a long time.”
Amen. And when the players around Bavuma have sorted themselves out, he can focus on adding aggression to his all-day approach.
5. Remember when South Africa would refuse to be bowled out?
Regarding batting all day, South Africa last did that on day two of the second test at Trent Bridge.
That means they bowled for at least part of the last 11 days of the series. Not once in the four tests could they so much as get through a session without losing a wicket.
“There’s a lot of inexperience in our batting line-up,” Russell Domingo said. “If you take [Joe] Root and [Alastair] Cook out of that England line-up, they are losing two massive players.
“It’s like us losing AB de Villiers and Vernon Philander — they are two big players to replace.
“Hopefully in time that type of quality will come through in our batting line-up.
“At the moment it’s not there.”
Until it is, expect more of what we have seen in England.