Dwaine Pretorius is not the most fashionable cricketer the Proteas have ever picked, but he could just be the player Mark Boucher’s team needs to tip the scales in their favour.
Test matches in South Africa have increasingly become low-scoring dogfights with batsmen involved in a desperate scramble to get something on the board before a paceman produces a bullet with their name on it. Such Tests are not settled by centuries or double tons, but rather the collective effort of the XI.
Since the retirement of Jacques Kallis, the Proteas have had to learn how to live without a world-class all-rounder and have done so by strict division of labour.
The strength of Quinton de Kock’s batting allowed the Proteas to pick six or seven batsmen and four or five specialist bowlers with Vernon Philander eventually ascending to the tag of all-rounder.
That system has started to fall apart with retirements and Kolpak losses, limiting the Proteas options.
Ahead of the series against England, the Proteas might have been forgiven for wishing they could still call on Kallis at the peak of his powers. Kallis reminds cricket fans of a time when Proteas batsmen could occupy the crease for longer than three sessions.
Fragile batting and a potent bowling attack have had the Proteas ‘order’ pitches that favour seam bowlers, but require a certain degree of craft and a willingness to bend your back in order to make the surface talk.
The surfaces ensure that visitors will try to match the Proteas’ fire with fire, making the lives of the top order that much harder. On these surfaces a regular 30 or 40 runs from your No 7 could be massively influential.
South Africa picked six batsmen throughout the series against Pakistan, leaving the bowling work to the four specialists, but in the series against Sri Lanka flirted with the return of an all-rounder to lighten the seamers’ workloads. Wiaan Mulder’s spate of injuries have prevented him from staking a claim for the No 7 spot and Philander is both set to retire soon as well as never looking the part as a Test seven.
In the current home Test environment, Pretorius has the potential to be very influential in the margins of the game. His contribution on the first two days of the first Test against England bears this out.
The raw numbers are that he scored 33 and returned figures of 1-23 from eight overs. What those numbers don’t tell one is that Pretorius came to the crease with senior batsmen dropping like flies and De Kock not looking as in control as the 95 he put on the board suggested. Pretorius helped remove the threat posed to De Kock by the part-time spin of Joe Root, lining up the England skipper and depositing the ball on to the bank with ease. The 77-run stand between the two proved crucial to the Proteas posting a score that approached respectability.
In his eight overs, Pretorius showed he has the discipline to stick to a plan and the skills to create chances. He took just one wicket, but it was a crucial one. A slight deviation deceived the well-set Joe Denly shortly after he had brought up his 50.
Rumours have been flying about that Pretorius has had to be dissuaded from signing a Kolpak deal with Nottinghamshire by Graeme Smith. The director of cricket claims no such discussions have taken place. Pretorius could earn himself a continued stretch in the Proteas lineup, but strong displays will only increase the chances of approaches from English counties prizing his skills highly.
He might never be talked about with the same reverence as Kallis, but Pretorius could prove to be a valuable player for the Proteas in the immediate future.
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