Five talking points ahead of the do-or-die clash at Centurion.
HERE WE GO AGAIN
Another Test, another August debut, another relaid surface. This time it’s Centurion. ‘We don’t know what to expect to be honest, we don’t usually play cricket at this time of the year,’ said Vernon Philander. Will we have a Durban repeat? The simple answer is no. No rain is expected, and head groundsman Rudolph du Preez has promised a pitch capable of lasting five days. No one is really sure how the new surface is going to play up or what the August conditions will do to the ball, but at least, touch wood, we’re going to see some cricket.
MORE OF THE SAME, PLEASE
If day two in Durban is anything to go by, then we’re in for a treat from Dale Steyn. For someone playing his first Test in 2016, he was rather impressive. He removed both openers to land figures of 2-3 before the players were forced off, continuing his sensational record against the Black Caps. In 10 matches against NZ going into that match he’s taken 58 wickets at 17.06. It gets even better as we head up to Centurion. In the two matches he’s played there against the Kiwis, he’s taken 17 wickets at 13.7. In his eight matches there against all opposition, he’s racked up 48 wickets at just under 18. Phenomenal reading, even by his standards. Vernon Philander showed plenty of promise in that opening spell, too. In four matches against the opposition, he’s taken 28 wickets at 14.57. Lets’ not forget that a certain six-time CSA award winner will be first-change at Supersport Park, too.
WILLIAMSON & TAYLOR
Something the Proteas don’t have at the moment are a pair of middle-order batsmen stepping up and contributing to their team with big runs regularly. New Zealand have that backbone in Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. With respective world rankings of 3 and 9, the pair are invaluable to the Kiwis. We’ll never know if they were going to get their side out of trouble in Durban, but what we do know is that Taylor is due a big knock against the Proteas. He’s never scored a fifty against the Proteas, and his average of 30.71 against them is his lowest against any team. In the 12 Tests Williamson has played since the beginning of 2015 meanwhile, he’s amassed 1 586 runs at an average of 83.47. Get these guys out cheaply and you’re laughing.
AMLA & ??
At least two batsmen need to come to the party for the Proteas, and we saw glimpses of exactly how important that is in Durban, as Amla’s swashbuckling 53 was backed up by a solid 46 from Temba Bavuma, which ultimately gave the Proteas a respectable score. South Africa are in desperate need of regular performances from the middle-order. Amla is the only one who’s done it consistently over an extended period of time. AB de Villiers’ absence has forced JP Duminy to come in at No 4. It’s not ideal to have a No 4 who averages 31.93. The last time he scored a fifty for SA was two years ago, against Zimbabwe. He has to contribute, and so too does interim skipper Faf du Plessis, who was dropped for that fourth Test against England at the same ground in January. He needs to prove that he belongs in this side with an extended run of form.
DON’T FORGET WHICH FORMAT YOU’RE PLAYING
Russell Domingo’s main concern going into this series is that his players have been playing too much cricket, and to make matters worse, the only cricket they’ve been playing is in the shorter formats. That came to light in the first Test with a number of wickets needlessly given away. No one’s wicket more so than Quinton de Kock, who, after hitting two boundaries in a row, tried to go for a third, and it backfired horribly. Graeme Pollock mentioned in his column on Wednesday that Hansie Cronje was infuriated with himself when he went out in a similar way. He said that when you’re in that limited-overs frame of mind, your instincts kick in and you have so little time to decide against your mindset. It’s an interesting point, and it will be even more interesting to see whether the likes of De Kock can get the balance right.
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/Backpage Pix