SA ponder changes in Ranchi

16 October 2019 - 14:02
By Telford Vice
Faf du Plessis and his team have been below average so far on their tour of India.
Image: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images Faf du Plessis and his team have been below average so far on their tour of India.

It takes 32 hours to drive the 1,582 kilometres across India from Pune‚ near the west coast‚ to Ranchi in the north-east.

South Africa’s men’s Test squad have made that journey‚ happily for them by air.

But it probably felt just as long as if they had endured every bump and pothole on the road.

Pune was where India clinched the series on Sunday with their biggest every victory over South Africa — by an innings and 137 runs‚ and with a day to spare.

That followed the home side’ 203-run win in Visakhapatnam‚ where the tone was set.

In both matches India have showcased their strengths in all departments and South Africa have struggled to perform like a reasonable facsimile of the tough‚ proud team they used to be.

And so to Ranchi‚ where all that will matter are the 40 points up for grabs in the World Test Championship (WTC) standings.

Not that the WTC means anything yet.

The International Cricket Council’s attempt to make Tests more relevant by moving them out of T20’s shadow is‚ right now‚ a shapeless invertebrate of a thing.

Two years from now‚ when the final is played and the champions are crowned‚ it might be significant. But not now.

Even so‚ the WTC has kept on life support what would have been a dead rubber in Ranchi.

Whether that will stop South Africa from doing the obvious — include Zubayr Hamza and Heinrich Klaasen at the expense of Aiden Markram and Theunis de Bruyn‚ and work out the batting order from there — is keenly anticipated.

The pitches in Vizag and Pune offered no excuses for South Africa having ventured past 200 only twice‚ especially as the Indians have yet to be dismissed and while soaring to 500 and 600.

That the South Africans are applying their minds to their batting problems was apparent in the second innings in Pune‚ when Faf du Plessis moved up one place in the order to No. 4.

“I felt it was important for me to step up‚” Du Plessis said of his promotion.

“Every innings we’ve been in a position where we are 30 or 40 or 50/3.

“It was trying to find us a better start; taking responsibility in making sure I step up to the plate.

“For now‚ that is something that needs to be considered — for me to bat there until we feel there is growth‚ and games behind batsmen’s names so that the experience can come back.”

Temba Bavuma‚ who had been South Africa’s No. 4 in his previous seven innings‚ averages 49.15 in that position — better than Du Plessis’ 41.41 in the same spot.

But Bavuma has yet to score a half-century batting at No. 4 while Du Plessis has made a century and a 50 in his nine innings there.

More pertinently‚ Bavuma‚ though he has brought the same discipline and application to his performances in India as he does to all his work on the field‚ has scraped together 64 runs in the series.

That’s more than Markram and De Bruyn but fewer than Senuran Muthusamy and Vernon Philander.

Of the players who have appeared in both games only Markram and Kagiso Rabada have faced fewer deliveries than Bavuma.

South Africa need him in Ranchi‚ but he needs to take the next step towards fulfilling his potential.

“As a batter‚ when you are struggling‚ it is a difficult place to get out of‚” Du Plessis said.

“Perhaps it is a good opportunity to get some fresh heads into the team from a mental point of view.

“Maybe the best thing is for a player to take a breather and for someone else to come in with a fresh mind and take on the challenge in a one-off Test.”

Maybe we will see Hamza and Klaasen in action in Ranchi.