Sport

SOUTH AFRICA vs AUSTRALIA ANALYSIS

Proteas batters need to step up for the team to stay alive in Aussie series

Proteas batters need to step up for the team to stay alive in Aussie series
Dean Elgar of South Africa bats during day two of the first Test match between Australia and South Africa at The Gabba on December 18, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo: Albert Perez/Getty Images)

South Africa needs to decide whether to stick with five specialist batters or to increase the depth as they go into the crucial second Test against Australia in Melbourne on 26 December.

For the Proteas, a lack of runs is not a new narrative because it’s an old problem for the current crop. But the story of a lack of runs after the first Test against Australia in Brisbane last week continues to rumble because the home side also battled with the willow.

South Africa were bowled out for 152 and 99, while Australia managed 218 and 35 for four, to win by six wickets. The Aussies don’t often lose 14 wickets for 250 runs on home turf.

The Gabba pitch was rated “below average” in a report by match referee, former West Indies captain Richie Richardson, but it will make no difference now.

The Proteas are on the back foot in the three-match series and simply have to win the second Test, starting at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Boxing Day.

Low scoring, while unusual for the Aussies in recent times, is unfortunately an increasingly familiar trait for the Proteas top order. No Proteas batter has made a century since the second Test against New Zealand in March.

The team has not made more than 200 in their last six Test innings and in terms of averages, captain Dean Elgar is the only one of the team’s top five that hovers near the 40-runs-per-innings mark.

It is unsurprising then, that the team is able to achieve big scores with so few world-class batters and so many inexperienced players. In fact, it was fast bowler Kagiso Rabada who stepped up to the batters’ defence in the wake of the first Test loss.

“The batting line-up we have is quite inexperienced. In fact, the team we have is relatively experienced if you look at other cricketing nations around the world. Dean Elgar is our most experienced player, followed by, I think, myself and Temba. I’ve played 50-odd Test matches and others haven’t played much,” Rabada said. 

“It can get frustrating. I don’t mean to single out the batters; I mean that it’s frustrating as a team. You have to understand that sometimes this is what happens in a rebuilding phase.

“I’ve played in a team with a star-studded line-up, where you’re playing with greats of the game. I don’t think that happens frequently. There are a whole lot of players who’ve come in who have the ability but need to get used to the international circuit.

“There needs to be an element of patience and understanding, but at the same time you can’t advocate for bad performances.”

Kagiso Rabada of South Africa bowls during day two of the First Test match between Australia and South Africa at The Gabba on 18 December, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo: Albert Perez/Getty Images)

 Decisions, decisions

With five batters likely to retain their place in the Proteas side for the second Test, there may be a place or two available for those sitting on the sidelines.

A key decision will be whether Rassie van der Dussen keeps his place as the Proteas number three. In 18 Tests, Van der Dussen averages 30.16, which includes six 50s and a high score of 98. All in all, those are not bad numbers.

However, considering that the 33-year-old averages an astonishing 69.31 in ODI cricket – which currently stands as the highest batting average in the history of the format – he hasn’t quite lived up to his potential in the red-ball arena.

Van der Dussen made five runs combined in the first Test, and if the decision is made to drop him, Theunis de Bruyn will be raring to go.

De Bruyn has played 12 Tests and two previous matches against Australia. Despite an 88 in the warm-up game against the Cricket Australia XI, his Test numbers are unremarkable.

Since making his debut against New Zealand in 2017, De Bruyn has made 428 runs at an average of 19.45, scoring one century in the process.

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Another option is Heinrich Klaasen, whose only Test appearance came in India in 2019. Klaasen’s first-class record speaks for itself, with the 31-year-old having played 82 games, scoring 5,254 runs at an average of 47.76.

Klaasen has also become a Proteas regular in white-ball cricket, averaging 34.6 in 30 ODI’s. And with scoring runs quickly becoming more and more effective in Test cricket, as displayed by Travis Head in the first Test, Klaasen could be the perfect addition.

Spin, or no spin

The Proteas fast-bowlers shone during the first Test, taking 14 Australian wickets in a little more than 55 overs. Rabada was the pick of the bunch with his match total of eight wickets, while Anrich Nortje, Marco Jansen and Lungi Ngidi all chipped in with wickets of their own.

A question mark, however, is the inclusion of Keshav Maharaj. Although the left-arm orthodox is one of the most experienced players in the side with 46 Tests, Maharaj bowled just two overs in total during the first Test, being hit for 17 runs.

Justin Sammons batting coach of proteas during the South African national men’s cricket team training session at Sydney Cricket Ground on 2 November, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Isuru Sameera Peiris/Gallo Images)

And while it should be noted that the Test match was finished inside two days, Australian counterpart Nathan Lyon proved effective with a handy four wickets. If Maharaj is not going to be utilised, the Proteas’ flimsy batting line-up could do with an extra batter in the side, especially considering the success of the seam attack.

But ultimately, whatever decision is made with regards to team selection, the Proteas must improve their batting to avoid a first Test series defeat down under since the 2005/06 season.

They remain confident of turning it around despite the shortcomings of the batting department.

“Over the past year, funnily enough we have played our best cricket when we have been behind,” batting coach Justin Sammons told the media on Friday. “So, I think the group’s taken confidence in what we’ve done in the past when it comes to coming from behind. 

“We came from behind in the series against India last December when we were 1-0 down and won 2-1. We did it in New Zealand when we were 1-0 down and we came back in the second Test there to draw the series, so it’s not something we’re afraid of doing.

“We know as a batting group that they are one of the best attacks in the world, if not the best with ours, and we have to be on top of our games, both defensively and in attack. 

“When we get opportunities to score, we’ve got to make sure that we take them and then defensively we’ve got to be in a strong position and commit.” DM

(Additional reporting by Cody Hansen)

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