SA VS ENGLAND, SECOND TEST
Proteas’ Maharaj wants more runs from batters, while England vow to ‘come harder’
South Africa’s bowlers did all the damage in the first Test against England at Lord’s to go 1-0 up in the three-match series. But senior statesman Keshav Maharaj would like to see the batters step up too in the second Test, which starts on Thursday.
The Proteas have a fast-bowling arsenal spearheaded by one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, Kagiso Rabada. It also contains a supporting cast of some of the meanest and most skilful quicks in the business, so it’s easy to forget about the batters.
Taking 20 England wickets for a total of 314 runs inside three days underlines the quality of South Africa’s bowling attack. What is less certain is the solidity of the batting unit.
When the bowlers are ripping through a supposedly superior batting unit, on the back of winning the toss, several faults can be disguised. South Africa only needed to bat once in the first Test after skipper Dean Elgar won the toss and inserted England.
The Proteas duly posted 326 in reply to England’s 165 all out in the first innings for a healthy 161-run first-innings lead. It was good enough, but not exactly brilliant from the batting unit.
The top five contributed 179 of the runs, the bottom six added the other 147. Openers Elgar (47) and Sarel Erwee (73) laid a strong foundation, which the rest of the specialists failed to build on.
The bowlers, therefore, also bailed out the batters in their secondary discipline. It’s not a recipe that is likely to bring sustained success.
“As a batting unit, you want to score more centuries; it’s not a case of knowing they should rely on the middle or lower order to score runs,” spin bowler and senior player Keshav Maharaj told journalists on Tuesday.
“In our top six and seven, the guys are driven to score big centuries, so come the second and third Test, we’re going to see more centuries.
“Sarel showed signs of application and the way he went about his business along with Dean. The opening partnership really set the foundation for us, the middle order didn’t fire in the first Test, but we know the quality they possess.”
Maharaj, who is one of the lower-middle order players making good contributions with the bat, says that the bowlers are all spending a decent amount of time on their batting.
“When Bouch [coach Mark Boucher] took over, he wanted to work on our middle to lower order and contribute runs,” Maharaj said. “You know how vital those 50 or 60 runs can be going down the order.
“If you look at our net sessions, our bowlers actually spend a lot of time facing bowlers and getting throw-downs. So, it’s nice to see we’re getting the rewards.
“A lot of it is due to the hard work that Bouch has done, as well as Sammo [batting coach Justin Sammons], who has been exceptional for our batting unit as a whole but also in encouraging our lower order to make sure we top up on our skill and make sure we take care of the nitty-gritty aspects.”
It’s certainly an optimistic position to take, but after an innings and 12-run win in the first Test, why shouldn’t the Proteas be confident?
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England will ‘come harder’
England’s deeper and many feel, better, batting lineup could not cope with the skill and variation of South Africa’s bowling unit.
That has partly been put down to England’s seemingly relentless and often reckless, aggressive batting — or “Bazball” — approach to the game.
After four Test victories under current coach Brendon McCullum, employing this swashbuckling style, it came unstuck at Lord’s. But England have vowed to continue using this style. They’re even vowing to “come harder” at the South African bowlers in the second Test starting at Old Trafford on Thursday.
“I guess one of the messages we will be talking about is, did we go hard enough with our approach? Could we maybe go a little harder and try turn some pressure back on the opposition as well?” England skipper Ben Stokes said after the first Test ended inside three days.
“There’s not much point in hitting the nets as such. For us, we’ve got very good cricketers and they’ve had a lot of cricket over their careers and they know what they’re doing. We just need to tidy up a couple of areas. And one message will be, can we go a little harder?”
England have successfully chased four fourth innings totals in excess of 250 in the last two months. But at Lord’s they batted first and third in the Test, and came unstuck. Could their failure with the bat be as simple as struggling in the first innings?
“Sometimes, when I think the scoreboard dictates what you’re chasing, we can be a little braver as well,” McCullum said after Lord’s.
“So, maybe that’s something for us batting first, maybe we can be a little braver, maybe we can go a little harder than what we did in this Test match.
“We did what we could in those conditions but weren’t quite able to get enough runs in that first innings.
“We could maybe have been a little braver to be able to turn some pressure back on the opposition — in both innings. But it’s always the way, right? You have to try to absorb pressure at times and get yourself back to a position of parity to then put some pressure back on the opposition. We weren’t able to do that.”
Former England skipper and leading batter Joe Root was singing from the hymn sheet.
“Even though the result didn’t go how we wanted it to, and we didn’t play as well as we could have done, it doesn’t change anything,” Root said. “That’s been made very clear to the group.
“If anything, it’s an opportunity for us to come out and play with more intent; more in the way that we have done at the start of the year. It’s another opportunity to get back to how well we were playing in those first four Test matches.
“I try to look at things for what they are. You’re going to make mistakes on occasion; you’re going to play a bad shot. Things aren’t always going to go in your favour.
“You go into the game trusting all the work that you’ve done leading up to it. Not much will change. More than anything, it’s about committing to how we want to go about things, and having full trust and belief in it.”
The Proteas have been warned. If England are to go down, it will be on their own terms. DM