Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, and Temba Bavuma need to find form ahead of a series in England where big team scores will be paramount.
After a nightmare 18-month period that witnessed crushing losses to India and England, the Proteas are once again on the rise. Since the beginning of the 2016-17 season, South Africa have won six, drawn two and lost one. That record has propelled them to third place in the ICC Test rankings.
That said, some of the performances have lacked cohesion and served as evidence that this team is not the finished article. Improvements need to be made in the lead-up to the series in England. Thereafter, the Proteas will face India and Australia. It’s a period that could – if things go well – see South Africa reclaiming the coveted Test mace.
Some might say that AB de Villiers’s availability will determine whether the Proteas soar or fade over the next 12 months or so. While there’s little doubt that the inclusion of De Villiers adds an extra dimension to the batting lineup, the Proteas need a contingency plan.
At the moment, South Africa are relying heavily on Dean Elgar and captain Faf du Plessis. While Elgar and Du Plessis’s performances over the past nine Tests have been worthy of applause, the form of Cook, Amla, Bavuma, and to a lesser extent JP Duminy has warranted concern.
How important have Elgar and Du Plessis been to the cause in recent times? Elgar scored 229 of the Proteas’ 532 runs in the recent Test in Dunedin. The gritty left-handed batsmen has scored the most runs for South Africa this season (717 at an average of 55).
Du Plessis has scored 654 runs during this period at an average of 59.45. Together, Elgar and Du Plessis have scored nearly 30% of the team’s runs in the 2016-17 season.
While the Proteas have won six of their last nine Tests, they haven’t been consistently prolific with the bat. In 15 innings, South Africa have posted only four totals in excess of 400 and have been bowled out for less than 300 on five occasions.
Cook has scored three tons since making his debut for the Test side in early 2016. Yet a closer look at his stats doesn’t make for encouraging reading. The opening batsman has averaged 31.86 in the past nine Tests. He’s failed to score more than 20 in his his last five innings, and that run includes two ducks.
Amla has come in for criticism over the past few months, with some experts going as far to say his reflexes are not what they once were. Amla has averaged 31.06 this season, scoring just one century during this period. Despite the allegations regarding a declining reaction time, Amla will feature in the upcoming series against England. The coaches should hope that South Africa’s most talented Test batsman in the absence of De Villiers finds form sooner rather than later.
Temba Bavuma scored 64 in difficult conditions in Dunedin. His stats this season don’t paint a picture of a man in form, though. Indeed, Bavuma has contributed the least over the past nine Tests, scoring 347 runs at an average of 24.08.
Duminy has been a disappointment in the sense that more has been expected from him than 599 runs at an average of 39. He’s been elevated to that key position of No 4 and given more responsibility in the absence of De Villiers. Unfortunately for the Proteas, Duminy continues to chip in with cameos more typical of a No 6 or 7.
The selectors are running out of time to explore new options. While the Proteas remain bent on adding another away series win to their tally and climbing the rankings ladder, they must be honest with themselves and ask whether this batting lineup has what it takes to score prolifically and consistently across the four Tests against England. With this question in mind, the next Test in Wellington looms as a big one for Cook, Bavuma and Duminy.