The Proteas’ top-order batsmen must follow AB de Villiers’ lead and take the fight to the India bowlers at Centurion.
Who deserved the Man of the Match award in the first Test?
There was plenty of debate on this subject in the press box late on day four. At that stage, Vernon Philander was already the front-runner with three wickets in the first innings and four in the second (he subsequently finished with career-best innings figures of 6-42).
More than a few writers, from both sides of the divide, felt that De Villiers deserved the accolade, because the pitch favoured the seam-bowlers throughout the contest, and South Africa certainly had the worst of the conditions. De Villiers, however, took up the challenge to score 65 and then 35, which made a difference as the Proteas went on to beat India by 72 runs.
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Philander’s performance – and indeed that of the Proteas bowlers as a unit – in a pressure situation is worthy of celebration. One would expect Philander, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, and perhaps Chris Morris to cause the India batsmen similar problems at Centurion and the Wanderers.
Seam-friendly conditions are expected in the next two Tests. It’s fair to say that the series will be remembered as one for the bowlers.
So which set of batsmen will handle the conditions better? We may not see many hundreds in this series – only three fifties were scored at Newlands – but the top six of South Africa and India will be under pressure to make contributions that influence the outcome.
In the wake of the match at Newlands, Faf du Plessis highlighted his 114-run partnership with De Villiers in the first innings as significant while Quinton de Kock and Philander clubbed together for a stand of 60. South Africa posted 286, the best innings total in the game by some distance.
That said, the overall batting stats don’t make for particularly impressive reading. Tough conditions or not, the Proteas lost their last eight second-innings wickets for 65 runs and they produced one partnership of 50 runs in that innings, and only two more than 25.
Ottis Gibson believes that there is no reason to be especially concerned after the batting performance at Newlands. The Proteas coach spoke about the team’s new attacking mindset, and lauded De Villiers for taking the fight to the India bowlers.
Gibson pointed out that ‘any ball could have your name on it’ on that type of wicket. De Villiers, said Gibson, did the right thing to play positively.
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At the same time, Gibson suggested that the Proteas will need to make better decisions with regards to shot selection going forward as the stats confirmed that few players spent a significant amount of time at the crease. Gibson also felt that certain deliveries could have been left alone.
Twelve of the Proteas’ 20 dismissals at Newlands were caught behind – by the wicketkeeper or the fielders in the cordon. Four of the top six perished in this fashion in the first innings, and four again in the second dig. That latter figure excludes the dismissal of Kagiso Rabada, who came in as a nightwatchman and was also eventually caught behind.
The Proteas need to get the balance right going forward. Sure, the team wants to play positively, but the individual batsmen need to spend more time at the crease in order to make more meaningful scores.
Only two of the top six (De Villiers and Du Plessis) faced more than 50 deliveries in the first innings. Only two (Dean Elgar and De Villiers) faced 50 or more in the second.
We may see more low totals at Centurion and the Wanderers. However, in a series where the conditions favour the seamers and batting is especially challenging, a 30 is going to be worth 50 while scores of 60 or 70 will be as valuable as a century. De Villiers’s 65 at Newlands certainly was.
The Proteas need more of these individual contributions going forward. Hashim Amla, who scored three off 10 balls and then four off 20 at Newlands, is but one player who will be under pressure to deliver.
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