Besides an obvious lack of form and a loss of confidence, the Proteas’ batting lacks the intent and intensity required to put an international bowling attack under pressure, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
It was quite embarrassing watching Joe Root run through the Proteas top order in Port Elizabeth. Yes, he bowled well in spin-friendly conditions and he had more than enough runs to play with, but it’s flippin’ Joe Root. Not Ravi Ashwin or Nathan Lyon, it was the England captain, who before the third Test had never taken more than three wickets in an innings.
The Proteas’ inability to play spin is well documented, with series defeats away by Sri Lanka and India over the last year. However, they have been pretty average against all kinds of bowling following the retirement of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.
But South Africa’s batting has reached unprecedented levels of shambles following in this series, as they have been outbatted by England on the two coastal pitches that were easier to bat on than the Centurion track of the first Test.
The Proteas have managed to get more than 300 runs only three times in their last 22 innings! It’s a ridiculous stat, which tells us that this has been a problem for quite a while now. As a result, the Proteas have won only three of the last 11 Test matches played, with series drubbings by Sri Lanka (2-0 home and away) and India (3-0).
You need 20 wickets to win a Test match, but it’s a lot easier to do if you have runs on the board to play with. At the moment it seems the Proteas can’t even buy a run on a Black Friday special.
The new players who have come into the team haven’t performed as hoped, and it may be some time before some of them actually find their feet in the team. And now they go into this week’s do-or-die Test at the Wanderers under pressure to try to save a Test series that has gone south quickly after their first-innings collapse in Cape Town.
So, what’s the short-term solution? Long term it’s definitely to identify players with potential who can be moulded into run machines to take the team forward. Now, though, a change in mindset may do the trick ahead of the Joburg finale.
To be a successful Test batsman you have to be able to play genuine pace and good spin bowling. There are no two ways about it. At the moment the Proteas batsmen are struggling to cope with both, which is why they have suffered such heavy defeats in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Because their confidence is shot, they are batting with the mindset of surviving instead of shifting pressure on to the opposition. It’s something England has done well with the bat in the last two Tests, especially when it comes to picking off the Proteas’ premier spinner.
While the Proteas have found themselves fighting for survival, they have forgotten about a simple thing such as rotating the strike. A top-class spinner will tell you that this is worse than going for a boundary, because you never have the time to work on your plans for one specific batsman, because they keep getting off strike.
That’s why it was so easy for Joe Root to pick them off in the second innings in PE, because they showed no intent to rotate the strike. So England could afford to have those close catchers in place, because there was no need to plug gaps which could have released the pressure.
Intent with the bat isn’t about scoring boundaries and hitting out irresponsibly. Hard running and rotating the strike also gives the batsman confidence, which leads to him playing with a bit more freedom and trusting his ability a lot more. It’s called building an innings, which the likes of Gibbs, Kallis, Amla, Smith and De Villiers were known for.
The Proteas need to go into the fourth Test with a lot more intent with the bat … or suffer another series defeat.
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