Tricky times ahead for SA batsmen

06 September 2017 - 17:14 By Telford Vice
Former South Africa captain AB de Villiers. File photo
Former South Africa captain AB de Villiers. File photo

Key requirements: able to score centuries once in a while.

Failing that‚ the balls to bat out at least a session.

If selection convenor Linda Zondi or coach Ottis Gibson could place an advertisement in the help wanted section of the newspapers going into South Africa’s new season‚ it would read something like that.

Vacancies exist in those key batting departments‚ and while the deficiencies are unlikely to be exposed in the two Tests South Africa will play against Bangladesh this month they will face more searching examinations against India and Australia later in the summer.

But cricket-minded types haven’t resorted to the classified columns of newspapers since August 1882‚ when The Sporting Times published a mock obituary for English cricket after their team were beaten by Australia.

Instead‚ Zondi and Gibson will have to rely on more conventional methods to plug the gaps that loomed large during the Test series in England in July and August.

Dean Elgar was South Africa’s sole centurion despite the visitors banking 13 half-centuries‚ and not once did they escape a session without losing a wicket.

How much that matters is debatable: England had only two centuries and 14 half-centuries. Balls faced by all batsmen over the course of the series? England 3912‚ South Africa 3687.

So‚ what made the difference?

The answer lay on the other side of the equation‚ according to someone who knows a few things about scoring centuries and batting time.

“It seemed like the wickets didn’t suit batsmen on either side; conditions weren’t that conducive for them‚” former Test opener Jimmy Cook‚ who scored 64 centuries and 87 half-centuries in his 475 innings in first-class cricket‚ said on Wednesday.

“But if you’re going to play only three seamers the pitches are going to have to be like that and the batsmen are going to struggle.”

Considering two of South Africa’s opponents this summer are from the subcontinent‚ and that the temptation to exact retribution for the diabolical pitches prepared in India for South Africa’s series there in November 2015 will be strong‚ expect that trend to continue.

Cook also saw a complication in the happy news that AB de Villiers has made himself available in all three formats from the start of India’s tour.

“When AB comes back someone is going to have to sit out‚ and it’s going to be tricky‚” Cook said. “Who will that be?

“It’s great that he’s going to be back‚ but it would have been better if he was playing from the start.

“Now‚ someone who plays as a batsman against Bangladesh is not going to play against India.”

De Villiers has not appeared in a Test since January last year‚ and South Africa have played 15 without him.

They have totalled 400 or more only four times in 24 completed innings‚ and been dismissed for fewer than 250 in six others. Will De Villiers’ return help improve that record?

It’s up to him to answer that question‚ but he didn’t score a century in his last 14 Test innings and recorded four ducks in the process — three in succession in his most recent trips to the crease.

Since his last Test De Villiers has played 30 one-day games and 46 T20s of various levels‚ none of which will have done his preparation for the resumption of his test career much good.

But he remains AB de Villiers‚ a freak of the first water‚ a player who defies analysis and sometimes even the laws of physics.

He scores test centuries more frequently than once in while — 21 in 176 innings — and South Africa’s opponents tend to be deep in trouble if he bats for a session or more.

- TimesLIVE