There’s a time and a place for shuffling around the batting order, and more times than not, the Proteas don’t get it right.
It’s a good thing that Chris Morris batted well when he was bumped up to No 3 in the 6th ODI of the Tri-Nation series against West Indies. It was innovative, it sprung a surprise that the Windies wouldn’t have expected, and it proved the benefits of having a versatile all-rounder like Morris in the side.
Obviously if he’d batted poorly, cricket writers would have jumped on it – why promote him with AB de Villiers sitting in the shed? Why risk shifting the momentum to the opponents? Morris’s promotion up the order to provide a bit of impetus actually bothers me very little. What disturbs me is the subtle, needless tinkering that the Proteas do.
I’m talking about moving Rilee Rossouw up to No 4 in the World T20 Super 10s match against West Indies, and sending Farhaan Behardien in ahead of JP Duminy against the same opposition last week. Subtle promotions that have huge consequences, immediate and long-term.
It bothers me because there’s no clear purpose behind it. It’s no wonder that players like Rossouw and Behardien don’t really know where they belong in the side. When Jos Buttler gets moved up the order for England, it’s because they want to up the tempo. He’s a big hitter and he’s scored centuries from doing so. When MS Dhoni moves himself up the order for India, you know it’s because the innings is nearing its back-end, and he’s one of the best finishers the 50-over game has ever seen.
Rossouw, meanwhile has played in six different batting positions in the ODI side, and five different positions in the T20 side. He’s scored centuries from positions No 2 and 4, and half-centuries from 3, 4 and 6. His worthiness in the side divides opinion among the public, but the only way he’s going to build up an international career for himself is an extended run in one position, where he knows when he’s going to come in, he can prepare mentally, and fulfil a clear role given to him.
To this day, I still don’t know why he was moved ahead of De Villiers in that crucial T20 match. Why expose the less-experienced player? Why protect the best player? Rossouw recorded a second-ball duck, AB scored 10, and the Proteas bowed out on a whimper.
As interesting and moderately successful as it was to promote Morris in the recent ODI against the Windies, why is the No 1 batsman in the world – that guy who scored the quickest 50, 100 and 150 against this opposition last year – only being introduced in the 41st over? In the same breath, why was Behardien brought in ahead of Duminy? Was it a hunch? A last-gasp effort to get Behardien to find some form? I hope it was as simple as Duminy needing the bathroom when he was due to come in.
Sadly, the reality is that Behardien is going to leave the international arena, whenever that may be, never really knowing what his role in it was.
South Africa’s top four is looking pretty good despite the recent blips in form. In theory, you’ve got two quality players coming in if two quick wickets fall. It becomes a confusing mess when we get to No 5. Come the next ODI series against Australia in October, I think it’s time to see replacements for Duminy and Behardien in that middle order. It can be Rossouw, Miller, Elgar, hell, even give Bavuma a chance. There’s Theunis de Bruyn, Aiden Markram, Rudi Second and Qaasim Adams, too.
But please selectors and coaches, even if you decide to stick with Duminy and Behardien, just let them bat. None of this bowl an over here, bowl an over there, business. In Alviro Petersen’s recent column, his prediction might have been off, but I certainly comply with his thought-process when he said it’s sometimes just as simple as telling these guys to go out and bat, without complicating things.
Just tell them they must bat, and whoever does bat there, keep them there. Give them clear roles. Tell them: ‘You’ve got the whole series against Australia to make a name for yourself. You have five matches. You’re batting at No 5. Go and score some runs for your country.’