The Proteas’ chances of bouncing back against Australia will hinge on their ability to post more top – and middle –order partnerships of substance.
Advantage Australia. The tourists beat South Africa by 118 runs in Durban on Monday to take a 1-0 lead in the four-game series. They will head into the next fixture in Port Elizabeth – which commences on Friday – with momentum and confidence.
The Proteas should be commended for the fight they showed on days three and four at Kingsmead. The final result suggests that the Aussies were dominant. However, the individual contributions of Keshav Maharaj (nine wickets in the match) and Aiden Markram (a spirited knock of 143 in the second innings) ensured that the hosts finished the contest with their heads held high.
That’s not to say that this Proteas side doesn’t have its problems. After producing some underwhelming batting performances across the recent three-Test series against India, South Africa struggled to assert themselves in the first match against Australia.
Markram, AB de Villiers (71 not out), and Quinton de Kock (83) were the only South African batsmen to score 50 or more across the two innings. There was only one partnership of substance before the fall of the fifth wicket, namely the 87-run stand between Markram and Theunis de Bruyn in the second innings.
A lot’s been said and written about the individuals that comprise the Proteas top-six. Some felt that Markram was a man under pressure before the game at Kingsmead. Others laid the blame of a poor collective performance against India at De Kock’s door.
The stats tell a different story, though. All six of the Proteas’ top batsmen have had their problems over the past four Tests.
Markram has scored the most runs for South Africa this year (315), and is the only player to have scored a century. Most of the individual batting averages are nothing to shout about – Markram (39.38), Dean Elgar (31.86), Hashim Amla (26.38), De Villiers (40.29), Faf du Plessis (25.25), and De Kock (21.75).
Collectively, the Proteas batsmen have failed to fire. There have been 40 South African partnerships before the fall of the fifth wicket in 2018. The Proteas’ top batsmen have clubbed together for only nine stands of 50 or more during this period. That figure includes three partnerships of 100-plus.
It’s little wonder that the Proteas have struggled to post substantial totals that put the opposition under pressure. The Proteas’ score has read 150-5 or worse on six out of eight occasions in 2018.
When are we going to see more innings of substance, and when are the top-six batsmen going to fire as a collective and set the platform for team totals closer to 400 and 500?
It won’t get any easier for these players when they take guard at St George’s Park later this week. The Aussie bowlers have their tails up, and spinner Nathan Lyon in particular may be a handful on a slower wicket.
There’s been an admission by the Proteas that they got their batting game plans wrong at Kingsmead. They will have to try something different at St George’s Park if they hope to make an impression against the Aussie attack and boost the Proteas to a series-levelling result.
Amla has to fire at St George’s Park after scoring 0 and 8 at Kingsmead. Du Plessis is also due a score after some disappointing showings in Durban and in the third Test against India in Johannesburg.
The hosts will be counting on De Villiers to play a big innings. That said, the point has already been made this season: De Villiers cannot be expected to steer the team to big totals all on his own.
Markram will be full of confidence after that magnificent knock of 143. The Proteas need Markram and Elgar to get them off to a good start in Port Elizabeth. The openers have been less than consistent over the past four Tests, with only two stands of 50-plus in eight innings.
It will be interesting to see how Elgar goes about facing Lyon and Mitchell Starc. The left-handed opener didn’t seem to know much about the ball that got him out in the first innings in Kingsmead. He then failed to cope with the left-arm pace and swing of Starc in the second.
It’s a crucial game in the context of the series. Markram made a statement during the latter stages of the match at Kingsmead. All of the Proteas batsmen must show similar application and determination throughout the contest at St George’s Park.