Can we fault the selectors for giving De Bruyn a go at opening? Based on the other options available, no.
Each one of us is a national selector, able to pick a team that will never get the opportunity to test our ability. So, when we see a batsman like Theunis de Bruyn plucked from the domestic scene, where he generally bats at No 3 for the Knights, and is asked to open for the Proteas, it does leave us hurling the remote control at the TV.
Especially when he replaced Stephen Cook, who has three hundreds and two fifties from his 19 innings, with those hundreds coming against England, Australia (in Adelaide) and Sri Lanka in the series before the trip to New Zealand. Admittedly, Cook had scored only 14 runs in his four innings in New Zealand, but to drop him and give a debut to De Bruyn in the only Test the Proteas will playing before going to England in mid-year, did seem a strange call.
However, the selectors made the decision and now that it failed – although De Bruyn was unlucky to be run out in the second innings – he did look nervous and uncertain against the new ball outside of off-stump in the limited time he spent at the crease. Make no mistake though, he’s a huge talent, although one can only hope he’s allowed to settle into the middle-order instead, perhaps at the expense of JP Duminy.
For those of us criticising the selectors though, it’s not as if they have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to opening batsmen in the Test arena.
Presumably, they first assess those batsmen who make their runs in the four-day domestic Sunfoil Series, rather than the helter-skelter of T20 and even the One Day Cup.
So, when we look at the opening batsmen in the Sunfoil Series based on the 2016-17 season that finished in February, here is what is available to the Proteas selectors.
Colin Ackermann, of the Warriors, topped the run-scoring charts with 883, but he doesn’t open the batting. De Bruyn himself was third on 751 runs.
The top-scoring opener was in 11th position, being Edward Moore of the Warriors with 548 runs. He’s a 24-year-old left-hander with a First Class average of 37.05.
Next highest amongst the openers was the Titans’ Heino Kuhn with 527 runs, although he’s 33-years-old but has a first-class average of 43.82. In fact, of all the 12 franchise openers in the Sunfoil Series – and these include Cook and Dean Elgar – Kuhn’s first-class average is the highest. And, when he opened with Cook for South Africa A against Zimbabwe last July, he struck 108 (Cook made 143) as the pair put on 203 for the first wicket.
So, is Kuhn the most qualified opener on the domestic scene and a dark horse to tour England in July? There’s also the much-talked-about Aiden Markram, who has shown a lot of potential, but is yet to have enjoyed a long stretch in the team for the Titans.
For the record, here is the list of openers from the Sunfoil Series along with their career first-class averages:
Edward Moore 37.05
Gihahn Cloete 30.14
Heino Kuhn 43.82 (33)
Dean Elgar 43.81 and 40.65
Aiden Markram 41.38
Omphile Ramela 29.55
Andrew Puttick 40.56
Divan van Wyk 40.05
Senuran Muthusamy 33.32
Luthando Mnyanda 24.24
Diego Rosier 23.63
Stephen Cook 33.26
Reeza Hendricks 32.21
Also, in the selectors’ defence, there have been examples of batsmen not opening across all their Test careers.
Gary Kirsten famously laid anchor for 14-and-a-half hours in the follow-on against England in 1999, but in his 176 Test innings he spent the last 25 of them batting at Nos 3, 4, 5 and 6.
Herschelle Gibbs’ first 13 Test innings were at Nos 3, 5, 6 and 7 before he was promoted to opener. Perhaps there’s a lesson for De Bruyn going forward here?
Hashim Amla is a career No 3 who has opened only twice in 175 innings; would he have been as successful as an opener? We won’t ever know.
Graeme Smith’s first four innings were at Nos 3 and 4 and he was then promoted to opener and got 200 against Bangladesh in his first innings.
There are others, like Neil McKenzie and Jacques Rudolph, who were able to adapt to wherever they were placed in the order, and perhaps, given what was on display in the Sunfoil Series, the selectors may feel they had little option but to look outside of the pool of openers to fill the role at Test level.
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