The Proteas continue to ponder who will bat at seven in the order during the World Cup, but must be mindful of the importance of the position in Test match cricket, too, writes Jonhenry Wilson.
The decision to sideline batsman Theunis de Bruyn from the ongoing first Test against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead in Durban effectively backfired in the first innings.
The top- through middle-order failed, leaving wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock to counterattack – and shepherd the tail-enders.
Seventh is too high in the order for all-rounder Vernon Philander. Statistics show he averages some six runs less (17.66) than a Test career aggregate (24.12) in that position, while positions eight (26.13) and even nine (26.47) have yielded better results.
This is not to say de Bruyn or de Kock must bat seventh and Philander eighth, but rather to reiterate that dropping a batsman is too risky in any conditions.
Whether the Proteas needed to find room in the XI for spinner Keshav Maharaj is arguable. They sufficed without him against Pakistan at Newlands in Cape Town and the Wanderers in Johannesburg earlier this year.
A seamer should have been sidelined for Maharaj, not a batsman. De Bruyn and Temba Bavuma could have bowled some overs of part-time seam, come Thursday and beyond. They’ve done so modestly in Test cricket previously.
A captain can always find overs – and probably wickets – from batsmen who bowl. Meaningful runs from bowlers who bat as high as seven in challenging circumstances such as those witnessed on Wednesday, though, are a significantly larger ask.
South Africa will likely respond well with the ball later this week, when four – not five – of Philander, Maharaj, Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier and Kagiso Rabada will be required to perform well individually and collectively.
Five frontline bowlers are unnecessary overkill, especially against a Sri Lankan batting order void of substance, aside from captain Dimuth Karunaratne and middle-order kingpin Kusal Mendis.
Regardless of the result in Durban, selection for next week’s second and final Test at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth must demand the addition of de Bruyn, newcomer Zubayr Hamza or uncapped all-rounder Wiaan Mulder. Maharaj can stay, de Bruyn doesn’t have to return, Mulder could be the straightforward answer.
Whichever way the order is shuffled and stacked, the Proteas owe themselves a dedicated number seven batsman at the expense of a fourth seamer.
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