Proteas need to reassess batting before fourth Test after England win in PE

Proteas need to reassess batting before fourth Test after England win in PE
PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 20: Anrich Nortje of South Africa b Dominic Bess of England during day 5 of the 3rd Test match between South Africa and England at St Georges Park on January 20, 2020 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

The time for deep introspection and analysis will come later, but for now Proteas coach Mark Boucher and captain Faf du Plessis have to find ways to shore up his team’s batting if they want to save the series against England.

England 499 for 9 (Ollie Pope 135*, Ben Stokes 120, Keshav Maharaj 5-180) beat South Africa 209 (Quinton de Kock 63, Dom Bess 5-51) and 237 (Maharaj 71, Joe Root 4-87) by an innings and 53 runs.

South Africa captain Faf du Plessis made no excuses and pulled no punches after his side slumped to an innings and 53 run defeat against England in Port Elizabeth to fall 2-1 behind in the four-Test series.

Fragile batting is undermining everything else the team does. Without the foundation of a good score, the Proteas are always under pressure and after three Tests there hasn’t been a single centurion in South African colours. England batsmen have scored three centuries in the series.

By being bowled out for 237 in their follow-on innings 10 minutes before lunch on day five at St George’s, it was the 11th consecutive time South Africa have failed to post a score in excess of 300. Not too many Tests are won with mediocre first innings totals, which is why the Proteas have lost five of their last six Tests.

On Monday England needed just under two hours to pick up the four wickets they needed for victory in the third Test. It cost them 135 runs as Keshav Maharaj (71) and Dane Paterson (39 not out) made hay with a 99-run 10th wicket stand, but it was always way too little, too late.

England won comfortably to assume control of the four-Test series with the finale at the Wanderers starting on Friday 24 January.

It hasn’t helped that Du Plessis has lost the toss six times in a row, but that is not enough of an excuse for the team’s general lack of temperament and technique.

The St George’s pitch was slow with almost no lateral movement for the seamers. There was turn for the spinners, which Dom Bess exploited in the first innings, taking five for 51 and Joe Root in the second with four for 87. But Maharaj and Paterson, as well as regular No 10 Anrich Nortje in the first innings with a three-hour 11-minute stay at the crease in compiling 18 – showed that there were no demons in the pitch.

South Africa’s first innings display was inexcusable. The top order failed to cope with Bess and after some resistance from Quinton de Kock (63) and Vernon Philander (27) things fell apart dramatically on day four.

England took four wickets in 28 balls for the addition of a single run to reduce South Africa from 208 for six overnight, to 209 all out. It allowed England skipper Joe Root to enforce the follow-on in a match that was losing time to rain.

The second innings was no better although Du Plessis dug in with 36 scored off 123 balls – his highest score in eight innings.

We batted poorly in the first innings and we didn’t play Bess very well, even though he bowled well,” Du Plessis said after the match. “I thought we could have played him a bit better.

The team and I are feeling the pressure of not performing to the standard we should, but we will keep trying and keep fighting.

We will have to regroup and have some firm chats before the next Test. The bowlers have done well in terms of controlling the rate.

As a batting unit we haven’t put on big totals. If you look at England, it’s one or two guys making big scores. Just one big partnership gives you the momentum you need. Our batting unit has to be better.”

Just how they fix it will come down to mentality rather than technique. De Kock threw his wicket away twice when he looked comfortable, Du Plessis struggled with Bess and some loose shots accounted for others.

Temba Bavuma is likely to be recalled for the struggling Zubayr Hamza at the Wanderers while talented youngster Keegan Petersen has also been called up. If selected, he would be the 10th new cap in six Tests, which sums up how difficult things are for the Proteas currently.

Bavuma scored 180 in a first class game last week – his highest first-class total. It was exactly what the selectors wanted when they asked him to return to domestic cricket to gain some confidence and form. A recall on his home ground is needed.

At St George’s, England’s first innings score of 499 for nine came despite some very good bowling from South Africa on day one, which only served to underline that patience and application were the key. Those were two ingredients much of South Africa’s batting lacked.

Ollie Pope took his time on his way to his maiden century before accelerating later. His 135 not out was a classy innings that mixed aggression and defence in equal measure. Ben Stokes 120 was also a study in playing himself in, before savaging the bowling in calculated bursts as he has done all series.

It’s a template for how we want to play the game in the future – post a big first innings score and drive the game from there,” Root said. “Ollie and Stokes had a great partnership and put us in a commanding position.

Du Plessis lamented losing yet another toss but he didn’t exonerate the team’s performance based on the spin of a coin.

The toss played a role with the spin, but we did well with the ball on day one and controlled the run rate,” Du Plessis said.

Once again, like they have done all series, our bowlers kept a lid on their batting lineup. England played some very good cricket and showed good application (with the bat) through Pope and Stokes. Stokes was a thorn in our side and if you don’t get him out, he is going to move the run rate forward.

They laid a platform to come in and play freely. With 500 on the board we had to come in make sure that we put on a fight and a big total in our first innings to compete for the rest of the match. We obviously didn’t do that.”

The Proteas will miss fast bowler Kagiso Rabada at the Wanderers after he was suspended for one game following his over-exuberent celebration when bowling Root in the first innings. He was issued one demerit point, bringing his total to four, which is an automatic one-match ban.

It’s a big frustration and disappointment that KG won’t play at the Wanderers, he is our best bowler,” Du Plessis said. “It’s not the first time we have lost him for a crucial game.

We are already a bit light in terms of our Test experience but those are the cards we have been dealt and we have to make the best of it.”

The best”, as Du Plessis alluded to, will have to start with a much improved batting performance. DM


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