Autopsy 3: 7-3-1, 6-3-2 or 7-2-2 for Proteas?

posted on 2018-07-10 18:58:59
posted by Rohit Sankar

The options before them for team combination are 6-3-2 (6 batsmen, 3 pacers and 2 spinners), 7-3-1 (7 batsmen, 3 pacers and 1 spinner) or 7-2-2 (7 batsmen, 2 pacers and 2 spinners).

Image courtesy: Cricket Country

de Villiers shifts to outside the off-stump, picks the reverse swinging ball from Mitchell Starc and guides it through fine-leg for four. He is so uber-balanced at the crease that even when the ball nearly yorks him, he is completely in control of the shot and sends the ball scurrying across the turf.

Balance. The one factor that separated AB de Villiers from normal batsmen. The one factor behind his myriad of jaw-dropping, perfectly executed shots.

When the maestro South African batsman announced his shock retirement, fans and critics spoke about how it would affect watching cricket in the next few years and how it would topple South Africa’s World Cup hopes. Little was spoken about balance. No, not his balance at the crease, but the team balance.

It took the Proteas an eternity to cover up for the massive loss of their superstar, Jacques Kallis. Then, the most obvious discussion was on how it would leave the Proteas crippled and rightly so. As they set forth for a Sri Lankan tour, similar questions haunt them. Team balance has taken a toll after de Villiers’ retirement and the same team that felt so right in Australia two years back appears to be immobilized.

The injury concerns

Ottis Gibson was adamant that there was no need to change South Africa’s three pacer formula for the first Test at Galle despite the conditions screaming out for a second spinner. “Our fast bowling has been the bedrock of our success for a long time, these conditions here don’t change my feeling on that,” he had said as revealed by IOL Sports.

What this could mean is South Africa might very well take the field on Thursday with three frontline seamers, Keshav Maharaj and seven batsmen. While the formation is as approved as 4-4-2 in football, South Africa would perhaps do well to rewind the clock and check their tryst with mid-Test match injuries in the past few years.

Quite often in recent times they have been left handicapped by injuries to their premium fast bowlers in the midst of a Test match. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, prime culprits in this regard, are both zeroed in to be a part of the starting XI with Rabada taking up the third seamer’s spot. They have barely anyone who can bowl among their top seven batsmen other than Aiden Markram whose capabilities surely do not match that of a fifth or even sixth bowler in a Test match.

If one of Steyn or Philander goes down, the chances of which cannot be entirely neglected, South Africa would almost certainly be playing catch-up in a two match series.

Balancing act

The alternate to this is of course to go in with six batsmen and an extra bowler, preferably a spinner considering the conditions. But there are problems aplenty with this strategy too. South Africa’s batting had quite a few issues against India and Australia in the recently concluded home series’. If anything, they were shored up by an elegant, in-form AB de Villiers, whose absence leaves a crater in South Africa’s Vesuvius.

If they do go in with six batsmen, Quinton de Kock, the incumbent keeper will be the man act as a bridge between the batsmen and the tail.  While he has manned the area to perfection in the past, the last few months have been hard for de Kock the batsman.

In his last two series’ combined, de Kock has scored just 318 runs at an average of 22.71. More than mere numbers, his manner of dismissals have stood out. Against India at Centurion, the southpaw edged four consecutive balls off Mohammad Shami through the slip cordon and was out caught off the fourth ball. Lack of footwork and a tendency to go hard at the ball have hurt de Kock and his multitude conundrums against spin could force South Africa to rethink.

In fact, they have Heinrich Klaasen, a much better player of spin available in the squad. While it might be a stretch to think Klaasen could solve all of South Africa’s problems, he certainly appears a safer bet than de Kock at the moment against the Lankan spinners. Only three batsmen have stood out for the Proteas in Tests in the past few months. Of these, only two of them are available to them right now, and both occupy the opening slots, which makes their middle-order super vulnerable.

Their best bet would be to trust Klaasen with the gloves, push Bavuma to de Villiers’ slot at no.4 and trust du Plessis to handle the middle order from no.5. The skipper has begun the tour with a confident looking 79 but will need to carry forward his form, which has been inconsistent, to the Test matches.

Finding the right balance in the post-de Villiers era in Tests is a massive headache for Gibson and du Plessis. They could sit back and hope everything pans out right by going the safer route or take a bold, decisive step towards the future by making some strong decisions.

The options before them are 6-3-2 (6 batsmen, 3 pacers and 2 spinners), 7-3-1 (7 batsmen, 3 pacers and 1 spinner) or 7-2-2 (7 batsmen, 2 pacers and 2 spinners).

Whatever they chose, achieving equilibrium will take time, patience and a lot of hard work.

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