Batting let Proteas down in Oval Test
“We let ourselves down with the bat,” claimed a more refreshed looking Vernon Philander at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon, emphasising that the South Africans believe that is the area that needs to be fixed urgently if the series with England is to be saved.
Kept losing wickets
The batting was definitely poor at The Oval. In the first innings there was a terrible top order collapse that left the Proteas 61/7 and in the second innings they kept losing wickets in clusters – garnering the ignominious record of the being the first team in Test history to have four first ball ducks on their scorecard.
It won’t be a simple problem to resolve either. Heino Kuhn needs a major score at Old Trafford, or his Test career will be limited to just this series, while Hashim Amla needs to rekindle one more piece of magic to help revitalise his recent form.
Faf du Plessis just needs to use his bat.
One interesting thought that Russell Domingo admitted had crossed his mind was to shift Temba Bavuma (pictured) up to No 4. It’s not as radical an option as some may think.
“It’s something we’ve spoken about even before the second match,” Domingo said this week. “I wasn’t there to get the gist of how guys were feeling at that stage but it’s something we’re speaking about.”
There are variables that needed to be considered here. The message it would send to the England team is that South Africa is a team in a state of chaos. Bavuma, if shifted to No 4, will be the third person to occupy that premier spot in the order in this series – the first player to do so, isn’t even in the squad anymore.
Then there is the demands it places on Bavuma himself. Currently in the No 6 spot he is finding himself more often than not having to salvage the innings because of the top order’s shortcomings.
He’s doing his job very well in those tough situations – averaging above 40 when he comes to the crease with the SA total less than 100. But it’s also not giving his talents the best opportunity to thrive either, having to consolidate and then bat with the tail.
A move to four gives him time – it may force him to be a bit more aggressive, for that is often the role of the player in that spot, to shift the pressure onto the opposition bowlers.
That in fact was the thought process that drove Faf du Plessis to ask Quinton de Kock to play there at Trent Bridge. It worked fine in the first innings, not so much in the second – although it was largely inconsequential – while at The Oval, De Kock only contributed a total of 22 runs.
How much of that was down to the fact that in both innings he came to the crease reasonably early after two lengthy stints behind the stumps is perhaps premature to judge at this stage – he’s only batted in that spot four times.
But it is a risk – another one – that the Proteas are taking as the endless tinkering with the batting order continues. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a fair long term option for De Kock.
For all of De Kock’s wonderful flair, what Bavuma will bring is some solidity and that must be given more than just a passing thought by the selectors when they discuss the options for the Old Trafford Test.
Dean Elgar spoke strongly about Bavuma after The Oval saying: “his game plan looks the best out of all our batters.”
“He showed a massive amount fight, his ability to adapt in the different scenarios and situations though the game has been a massive positive for him.”
So how about getting him to adapt to a different scenario by playing him at No 4?
It’s a position he wants to play in. “Personally, if the opportunity is there, I’d like to bat higher up the order,” he said in an interview in April.
As this series has shown and innings’ in Perth last year and Wellington this year, as well, Bavuma is capable of increasing his scoring rate when the situation demands.
It helped of course that in those two Tests against Australia and New Zealand, the significant partnerships he shared were with De Kock – who automatically places the opposition on the backfoot.
It may in fact be the first of the long-term moves the selectors make with the batting order that is certainly in need of much tinkering.