• Proteas tour: The good and the bad

    After rain washed out a total of six days’ play out of 10 during the two Tests against Bangladesh, SACricketmag.com tries to makes sense of South Africa’s frustrating tour.

    Everyone will have a different way of analysing whether or not South Africa’s tour to Bangladesh, which was strangely scheduled during monsoon season, was a success. The Proteas won the T20 series 2-0, lost the ODI series 2-1 and the Test series was drawn 0-0 after rain allowed only four days of cricket out of a total of 10.

    1. Fast bowler Kagiso Rabada made his mark in international cricket, taking 6-16 on debut in the first ODI to inspire South Africa to their third successive win on tour. He also played in the first T20I, taking two wickets and looks set for a long international career with the Proteas. The selectors opted not to give him a Test debut, and in hindsight it was probably the right call. Rabada’s rise means Vernon Philander’s ODI career is likely drawing to a close, and if he continues to do well the political pressure will mount to make Kagiso part of the Test side as well.

    2. Faf du Plessis
    is starting to become a vital cog in the batting line-up, especially in the shorter formats of the game. He had a good tour in the T20I and ODI series and will look to continue his good form against New Zealand later this month. Du Plessis has grown into the No 3 batting spot nicely; he is solid and focused, allowing the big hitters around him, like AB de Villiers and David Miller, to thrive. His presence balances the batting order where he operates more as a stroke-maker than a pinch-hitter. His goal now must be to do the same in Test cricket. He certainly has the temperament for it.

    He only played in the Test series, but Dale Steyn seems to have broken free of the shackles that confined him to a bit-part player at the IPL following South Africa’s disappointing World Cup defeat at the hands of New Zealand. Rumour is Steyn played that semi-final nursing an injury and hardly featured at the subsequent IPL for the Sunrisers Hyderabad. He understandably looked rusty and devoid of any rhythm in the first Test, but looked much sharper in the second where he managed to take his 400th Test wicket. By Steyn’s own admission he has rediscovered his fire for the game, and that can only bode well for the rest of the season, which include series against India and England.

    Simon Harmer and Aaron Phangiso went to Bangladesh as the two frontline spinners in the Test squad, but in the end Hashim Amla discovered the worth of having Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl in the side. Together with JP Duminy, they made a bigger impact than Harmer who, admittedly, had a decent outing in the first game. Duminy’s development as a spinner is progressing nicely and together with Elgar they give Amla more options, which will come in handy especially in the subcontinent. They proved it in the second Test, taking crucial wickets at crucial times on the first day.

    1. The selectors finally showed some courage in dropping Quinton de Kock for the second Test and replacing him with Dane Vilas. It should be a wake-up call for the youngster, who has been struggling for form ever since the World Cup where he came back from an ankle injury. Even though he is regarded as the future of the national team, De Kock simply had to go because there is only so long a player can get away with bad form. Vilas looked good behind the stumps, but didn’t get a chance to bat and it is there where his value will be truly measured. The worrying thing is that there seemed to be no improvement from De Kock in a mental or technical capacity since the World Cup. He will now join the South African A team for their tour of India where he will hope to recapture the form that gave him a call-up to the national team two years ago. What seems clear though, is that he may not yet be ready for Test cricket, which means his mental approach will need to match his technical one.

    2. South Africa ‘misread’ conditions in the ODI series and were rusty while rain probably saved them from a few blushes in the first Test. It will be vehemently denied, but one can’t help but wonder whether the Proteas underestimated the Tigers in the Test series. The deeper problem, however, was the fact that so many batsmen under performed. De Kock’s troubles have been well documented, but Hashim Amla had a very disappointing tour by his high standards. He wasn’t alone. David Miller and JP Duminy struggled in the one-day series and it didn’t get any better for the latter when South Africa played in whites.

    3. One thing this tour did underline was how much the Proteas miss AB de Villiers. Not only is he the best batsman in the world, but De Villiers is also the captain of the ODI team and his leadership was sorely missed, while the players struggled to cope with his absence in the Test side. Not enough batsmen stepped up when the situation demanded it and that should be a worry.

    4. The days that were lost in the Test series due to rain prevented the selectors from finding an answer to the opening batsman conundrum, which emerged after Alviro Petersen retired. Stiaan van Zyl was backed to open alongside Dean Elgar in both Tests, but didn’t really get a chance to prove himself a better bet than Reeza Hendricks. Van Zyl got starts in both innings of the first Test and ended the second unbeaten on 33. He looked comfortable for the most part, it’s just a pity South Africa didn’t get a chance to bat at all in the second Test. It would be unfair to drop Van Zyl for the next Test the Proteas play – against India in November – but with Hendricks waiting in the wings the Cape Cobras batsman will know he won’t have much time to make the opening spot his own. The pressure is on.