While Quinton de Kock’s Test recall is long overdue, it won’t solve all of South Africa’s problems.
England are now favourites to win this series. It may seem a premature statement to make after just one Test. And yet, having witnessed the performance of the tourists at Kingsmead, as well as the struggles of a South African team that is most certainly on the slide, you’d be hard-pressed to make any solid argument to the contrary.
England will take heart from that showing and result in Durban. Their bowling attack was outstanding, and should be further bolstered when James Anderson returns for the second Test at Newlands.
By contrast, the confidence of the South Africans will be at an all-time low. They were hammered 3-0 in India, and were completely outplayed in the first game of this series against England.
They will go into that must-win fixture in Cape Town without Vernon Philander as well as a question mark over bowling kingpin Dale Steyn. Even if Steyn plays, there will be questions about his ability to operate at optimum.
Brace yourself, for while the Proteas were poor at Kingsmead, they could be even worse at Newlands.
The recall of De Kock should not be commended, as it is an obvious an overdue selection. As former South African captain Shaun Pollock said in the wake of the defeat in Durban, De Kock should have been with team from the outset. The decision to omit a specialist ‘keeper and burden AB de Villiers with the responsibility was a shocker.
De Kock’s return to the lineup will free De Villiers up to concentrate on his batting. It will not, however, solve the problems of balance in this side. Indeed, these issues have been exacerbated recently through the injuries to Philander and Steyn, and the struggle of JP Duminy.
The absence of a competent opener to partner Dean Elgar continues to put the rest of the batting lineup under pressure. The form concerns of Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis aside, there is a significant problem down the order.
De Kock has been in great touch in domestic cricket. In six Tests for the Proteas, he averaged 33. He has a terrific future and must be backed for an extended period.
One would hope that he enjoys immediate success. But at the moment one can only hope. De Kock won’t be walking into a Proteas environment or a system that is conducive to success.
Not to make light of Amla or Du Plessis’s woes, but Duminy’s failures over the past year should be a great cause for concern. South Africa have been searching for an all-rounder who can lend the team balance following Jacques Kallis’s retirement. Duminy has not delivered in recent times.
The failures of the senior players has had a negative influence on the newcomers. Temba Bavuma battled gamely in the fourth Test in India. Against England in Durban, however, he looked just as fragile as his team-mates.
Philander has played some useful knocks down the order, as has Steyn. The Proteas will miss the impact of these two bowling at Newlands, but they will also miss their contributions with the bat.
A tail that includes Kagiso Rabada, Dane Piedt, Kyle Abbott, and Morné Morkel is unacceptably long. The concern is hardly alleviated if you consider who may bat at Nos 6 and 7. Bavuma lacks experience, Duminy is out of form, and De Kock is coming in cold.
It’s a problem that will take time to remedy. In the immediate future, these players will be under immense pressure to perform.
De Kock deserves to be there, but there will be pressure on him to score big as not much can be expected from that long tail. The Proteas may opt to stick with Duminy in the lower-middle order for his experience. It’s high time Duminy started repaying the selectors’ faith.