SA Cricket magazine editor RYAN VREDE rates the Proteas players in the Sri Lanka series.
The Proteas wrapped up a comfortable series victory, their first in five Test series, and snapped a three-Test losing streak with their innings victory at SuperSport Park.
While the outcome was encouraging ahead of a tough tour to Pakistan and a home Test series against Australia, perspective must be applied.
The Sri Lankan attack was robbed of three frontline bowlers through injury in Centurion. The Proteas were ruthless, as they should have been, but the attack they faced was impotent. The tourists’ batting wasn’t much better, scoring more than 250 just once in the series. A strong argument can be made that this was the weakest Sri Lanka team to tour South Africa since readmission.
This needs to influence the ratings, and has.
Aiden Markram: 5
A hot run of form in domestic cricket earned him a Test recall, but he has failed to capitalise on the weakness of his opposition. He got out for 68 at SuperSport Park when there were big runs on offer. His struggles outside off-stump resurfaced in the first innings of the Wanderers Test, when he knicked off a ball that was on a fifth-stump line. Markram is an immense talent but needs to develop the temperament and hunger to match his talent.
Dean Elgar: 9
No Test opener has scored more runs than Elgar over the last five years. He is the rock upon which the Proteas batting challenge is built and has become an indispensable member of the Test team. Unlike his opening partner Markram, Elgar came into the Test season struggling in domestic cricket. Some players are built for Test cricket, though, and Elgar is one such player. His mental strength makes up for what he lacks in flair and shot arsenal. His sustained form will be critical to the Proteas’ success this Test season and the seasons ahead.
Rassie van der Dussen: 6
Failed at SuperSport Park on a wicket that was tailor-made for a biggie, but redeemed himself somewhat with a strong 68 in Johannesburg. He needs to capitalise on starts and score big hundreds if he hopes to establish himself as the Proteas’ answer at No 3.
Faf du Plessis: 7
His 199 at SuperSport Park won the Test for the Proteas, but he was honest in his appraisal of it, explaining that he has scored many centuries he rates more highly. The lack of quality in the Sri Lanka attack had a lot to do with that assessment. However, it was invaluable in terms of his confidence, which was dented after an England series that concluded in January 2020, during which he averaged just 15. He failed at the Wanderers but, in fairness, the ball he got would have dismissed any of the game’s elite batters. His talent and temperament are so important in a relatively inexperienced batting lineup and one hopes his form and appetite for Test cricket sustains.
Quinton de Kock: 4
The sooner they relieve De Kock of the captaincy the better. The weight of this, combined with keeping and batting at No 5, is clearly affecting him. He is a generational talent who deserves better than to be shackled by all of this responsibility. De Kock scored just 28 runs across two innings in the series. This is self-evidently not good enough for a player of his calibre. There is a capable replacement for him as skipper in Dean Elgar. Let’s end De Kock’s misery.
Temba Bavuma: 6
His partnership with Faf du Plessis in Centurion helped take the Test away from Sri Lanka. His application under pressure there was encouraging and vital. But the inconsistency that has marked his Test career was on display again when he was trapped LBW for just 19 in the second Test. Bavuma averages just 31 after 41 Tests. As a specialist middle-order batsman, that needs to move quickly towards the higher 30s or early 40s.
Wiaan Mulder: 6
Brought into the Test team as a bowling all-rounder, Mulder did his Test future no harm. He finished the series as the third-highest wicket-taker, an excellent average of 20.55 and a good strike rate of 34.60. He also got big top-order players out, including Kusal Perera and Dinesh Chandimal (twice) at SuperSport Park, then cleaned up the top order in the first innings at the Wanderers. His speed is decent, but his control and ability to generate movement through the air and off the deck, combined with his tactical discipline, make him an exciting prospect for the future. Highly competent batsman, who has the potential to average in the mid- to high 30s.
Keshav Maharaj: 5
Maharaj didn’t take a wicket across the two Tests, but this had much to do with the potency of the seamers and decks that didn’t really take spin. He’ll have better conditions to work with in Pakistan and will be expected to carry the attack there in a manner he wasn’t in the seam-friendly Highveld. His 72 with the bat in Centurion showcased a better-than-average ability and he has the potential take his average from 16.65 to the mid-20s, which will greatly aid the Proteas’ cause.
Anrich Nortje: 7
Nortje showed the value of pure speed on willing decks. He was used as a first-change bowler in the first innings of the first Test, which was baffling given the speed and movement in the wicket. He was handed the new nut in the second innings, but while he bowled quickly, he was largely unthreatening. This changed in the second Test, where he excelled in the first innings to give the Proteas the edge with a six-for. Played a supporting role to the potent Lungi Ngidi in the second dig, combining speed and control expertly. His endurance was another key feature. No bowler came close to his 65 overs, and he bowled each of those with sustained speed and aggression. Finished as the series’ leading wicket-taker (11).
Lungi Ngidi: 6
Asked to take the new ball in Kagiso Rabada’s absence, Ngidi did well. Took time to find the control that would later mark his efforts, but looked threatening for large parts of his spells, particularly to left-handers. Dismissed Sri Lanka’s key batter, Dimuth Karunaratne, in both innings of the first Test and, although he struggled in the first innings of the second Test, he rebounded strongly, taking four wickets in the second dig.
Lutho Sipamla: 6
His rebound after an extremely nervy start speaks to underlying mental steel, which, when combined with his obvious talent, could make for a very useful Test bowler. Sipamla twice cleaned up the lower order, first in the first innings at SuperSport Park, then crucially in the morning session of day three of the second. He isn’t the quickest, but he sends it down at appreciable clicks and does so with good control and a fair amount of swing. There are sterner tests to come for the 22-year-old, but what we see is very encouraging.