Young guns need to learn to bat like the ballie generation

Future success will depend on how the team's resources are used, says Kirsten

06 January 2019 - 00:00 By TELFORD VICE

Add up the ages of the ballies of SA's batting - Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar - and you get exactly 100 years.
Tally the time the young Turks - Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn and the uncapped Zubayr Hamza - have been around and you arrive at 101.
So the kids have it. By one.
Gimmicky though that construct is, it pops questions that need addressing.
Near the end of an era that has produced perfection and pitbulls in players like Amla and Elgar, should South Africans expect the fresh princes to take batting to new heights of innovation and adaptability?
Or will they stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before to produce more of what has taken SA to the top of the Test rankings but seen them flounder on the subcontinent?
For Peter Kirsten the answers were governed by an overarching truth: "You've got to play according to your personnel. Consider the resources, look at what's available and play accordingly.
"SA have lost a lot of flair players."
He paused his thought to reel off a list that started with AB de Villiers, moved on to Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs, and harked back to Kenny McEwan and Graeme Pollock. Kirsten had the modesty not to include himself, though he had every right.
"I don't see a lot of those types of players hurriedly making their mark. It will happen that guys retire but it puts a lot of pressure on young players."
It doesn't help that pitches are tilted towards bowlers to make the bigger picture look good.
Since the start of 2016, not including the Newlands Test against Pakistan, SA have won 14 of their 19 matches at home: a success rate of 73.68%. In the previous 15 years they won 46 of 78 home Tests, or 58.97%.
Jimmy Cook sees both sides of that equation: "I don't like us playing on wickets like this. We're making it very difficult for the guys. For a good contest you need a pitch that's 70/30 in favour of batsmen.
"But winning is our business."
Cook knows whereof he speaks. In 173 first-class innings on the green, green grass of home at the Wanderers, he scored 14 centuries and averaged 37.91. Transvaal won the Currie Cup nine times in the 19 seasons his career spanned, five of them - three consecutively - during the 1980s.
"You think these wickets are green? You've seen nothing yet," Cook said.
"We played three-day cricket [for Transvaal] and we won almost every time. If we made 250 we won by an innings."
For Somerset at far friendlier Taunton, Cook had 13 hundreds and averaged 81.65 in 44 innings - almost four times fewer than the number of times he took guard in Johannesburg.
He was the county championship's leading run scorer in each of his three seasons in England. How many times did that help Somerset win the title? Not once. They never have.
"Going to Taunton from Wanderers was like night and day; it was like going to heaven," Cook said.
Does that condemn batters to something like hell in SA?
"It could be a lot easier for us if we [go] for better batting wickets, which I doubt is going to happen," Elgar said after spending more than three hours on his 50 at Centurion, where SA beat Pakistan by six wickets in the first Test.
How did the surface compare to the bastard of a pitch at the Wanderers last January, when play was suspended after Elgar wore a bouncer on the grille of his helmet?
"I'd rather bat on this wicket because we won, and [on] that wicket at Wanderers we lost. I'd rather be sitting here claiming this wicket, but the experience I had at Wanderers got me through this one."
So speaks a ballie.

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