South Africa might have racked up a record win by clinching their second consecutive series victory Down Under, but two players in the team notched up unwanted records of their own. Imran Tahir registered the worst figures for a bowler without a wicket and Dean Elgar became the first player since Allan Donald in 1992 to record a pair on debut.
Despite their woeful showings, coach Gary Kirsten insists that there is still hope for their futures. Tahir, who made his debut for South Africa in 2011 has been a massive disappointment in Tests and while he was heralded as South Africa’s “big find” the leg-spinner has failed on the big stage.
He was subsequently dropped for the final Test against Australia in Perth with Robin Peterson coming in to replace him. Kirsten insists that Tahir still has a future with the Proteas, provided the leggie is willing to go back to the drawing board and put in the effort on domestic level.
“Our challenge is to get his confidence back up; he has a good idea of what he needs to work on. Hopefully he’ll come back here and see a lot of success in the first-class game again,” Kirsten said.
Peterson, though, strengthens the South African batting line-up rather significantly and after picking up six wickets in the final Test he might have cemented his spot back in the Proteas’ line-up. There is nothing bamboozling about Peterson, but he is far more crafty and patient than Tahir. It’s likely that the left-armer will keep his place in the side come the Test series against New Zealand.
“I think Robin has put in a strong performance (in Perth). The wickets that he got for us were a key factor in that game. He provides an all-rounder option as well.
“He has been around the squad for a period of time now and fought his way back into all environments. Robbie was also one of our most successful performers at the ICC World Twenty20,” said Kirsten.
Elgar might not have had the best of debuts, but Kirsten insisted that judging a player on one performance is not the way forward. Elgar scored 391 runs in first-class cricket in the 2011-12 series at an average of 30.07 – it’s not exactly record-breaking stuff, but the Proteas management will more than likely persist with Elgar for the New Zealand series.
“You can’t read anything into his (under-performance at Perth) at all. Just because he doesn’t perform in one Test match certainly doesn’t mean that he not a valuable part.
“He’s with us because he’s done exceptionally well at first-class level over a period of time and as much as we can we’ll give him a really good opportunity,” Kirsten said.
The coach also believes that the luxury of being able to play seven batsmen adds something extra to the Proteas’ line-up, something not many other teams can boast.
“We can pick a No.7 batter and that has helped us in certain situations. We don’t take that combination lightly. We know how important that is to our Test side in terms of the performances that we all want. There might come a time when we need to look at it another way but for now we have that,” said Kirsten.
His comments could be one of the strongest hints yet that South Africa will persist with AB de Villiers as wicketkeeper for the upcoming Tests against the Black Caps. With de Villiers taking over the gloves from Mark Boucher after he retired through injury, the Proteas were afforded an extra batting option in the form of JP Duminy. Duminy picked up an injury and Faf du Plessis stepped up to the plate, adding some serious meat to an already intimidating batting line-up.
But the wicketkeeper situation remains a tender one, with Thami Tsolekile being handed a central contract at the start of the year with the intention that he would take over from Boucher once the gloveman retired. Yet Tsolekile still hasn’t played and when Kirsten was asked about whether the Lions player would get a shot in the Test, he shied away from a direct answer.
“It’s difficult to say. I feel that our Test team is the flagship of South African cricket and it has had incredible success because we have players with a lot of experience, and a team that has great balance.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to take our results (as a current combination) lightly, though that’s not to say nobody else can play.
“Anyone can play in the Test team, but our combination at the moment is a very successful one. We come back very proud and as the number one side.
“We do make every effort to give guys opportunities in all forms of the game at Proteas level. We think long and hard about selections, (but) this team can stand tall about what it has achieved.”
The Test side and the plan to persist with de Villiers as keeper might seem set in stone, but the option to rest him for the shorter format of the game is one management might consider. However, Tsolekile getting the gloves in the shorter formats is unlikely. The Lions man is not really suited for the T20 format and the Proteas might stick with Dane Vilas for the shorter game.
The selectors are due to meet for a recap of the Australian series next week and to pick a squad for the upcoming T20 series before the Proteas start their home summer on 21 December with a T20 against New Zealand in Durban. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Imran Tahir falls as he avoids a bouncer from Australia’s Peter Siddle on the third day of the second test cricket match at the Adelaide cricket ground November 24, 2012. REUTERS/Regi Varghese
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