• AB may struggle without Steyn

    A dearth of experienced bowling options presents a massive challenge for South Africa’s new Test skipper AB de Villiers.

    De Villiers will lead the Proteas in the third Test against England. While he has captained South Africa on 76 occasions in ODIs, he has never skippered the side in the five-day format.

    De Villiers is one of cricket’s true superstars. We know that he is a batsman of peerless physical ability. We know that he’s the kind of character who embraces a challenge.

    On many occasions, De Villiers has succeeded in marrying the two virtues to produce a special sporting moment. And in many instances, his efforts have been enough to secure victory for his team.

    This time, however, the Proteas will need more than a stellar contribution by De Villiers with the bat. In Johannesburg, and Centurion thereafter, De Villiers’s management of the team as a whole will come under greater scrutiny.

    Expect De Villiers to talk about embracing the challenge in the build up to the next clash. Expect him to have a fair crack at slaying yet another formidable beast. Do not, however, underestimate the difficulty of the task that lies ahead for South Africa’s new Test skipper.

    England remain in a strong position to win the four-game series. In fact, they can afford to draw the next two matches and still win the series 1-0.

    South Africa may need to be more aggressive in order to finish the series with a win or a draw. One wonders how they will take the fight to England on the bowling front without two of their most experienced bowlers and proven match-winners, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.

    De Villiers is likely to operate with an attack similar to the one that did duty in the second Test in Cape Town. There are some good bowlers to choose from in a group which includes Morné Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris, and Dane Piedt. That said, Abbott, Rabada, Morris, and Piedt are still relatively new to the Test scene. The Proteas may be light on experience for a contest in which experience will be key.

    There will be increased pressure on Morkel going into this Test. If one thinks about the big series of the past, Steyn and Philander have led the way while Morkel has played a supporting role. Morkel hasn’t done badly in the absence of the pair, firstly in India last year, and in the most recent Tests against England. But more will be expected of the lanky fast bowler in what is a do-or-die match at the Wanderers. He has to set the tone early.

    How De Villiers manages Morkel and the bowlers as a unit will be key. If the less experienced bowlers succumb to the pressure, can De Villiers afford to bowl Morkel for extended spells? On the other hand, if Morkel fails to fire, who will De Villiers turn to for the breakthrough?

    A new hero may emerge in the coming Test. A less established player may indeed make the most of his opportunity and steer South Africa to victory.

    At the moment, though, it’s unclear who will assume that role and who De Villiers will turn to when the chips are down. That is a cause for concern, and why the Proteas will go into the next game as underdogs.