After a difficult series against India, Stiaan van Zyl knows the clock is ticking on his continued selection as an opener for the Test side.
Of all the batsmen in the team who struggled in India, Van Zyl is probably under the most pressure to perform against England as the uncertainty over who should open the batting with Dean Elgar continues. In short, there is a target on his back.
Van Zyl’s case wasn’t helped when he was left out of the team for the final Test against India in New Delhi to give Temba Bavuma a chance on the most batting friendly wicket in the series. Bavuma did well enough without being spectacular, but will most likely bat in the middle order as AB de Villiers takes over the wicketkeeping duties from Dane Vilas.
‘It was a tough pill to swallow,’ Van Zyl tells SACricketmag.com. ‘I was desperate to finish off the tour on a positive note, but I understand there are other players in the squad who deserves a chance to play.’
Despite the acknowledgement by former players and fans alike that the batting conditions in India were extremely tough, South Africa still came in for a lot of criticism for their lack of application and poor shot selection during the series.
Van Zyl says only people who have actually played the game at a professional level would understand just how difficult it was.
‘It was the first time the senior guys in the team encountered something like that,’ he says. ‘I wanted to do the best that I could, but I’m not looking for any excuses.
‘We did prepare for turning wickets, but what we faced went beyond that. Honestly, I don’t know how you prepare for pitches like that.’
Van Zyl, a natural No 3 batsman for the Cape Cobras, was identified as the next batsman to get a chance in the Test side should a spot open up, which it did when JP Duminy injured his prior to the home series against the West Indies a year ago.
He scored a century batting at No 6 on debut in the Centurion Test and eventually moved up the order to open the batting with Dean Elgar after Alviro Petersen retired from international cricket after the series.
Prior to that Van Zyl was used as an opener by the Cobras to accommodate the national agenda.
Every time he fails with the bat, people say it’s because he’s not a real opener and should be replaced by someone like Stephen Cook or Andrew Puttick.
‘I’m aware of the stuff that is being said in the media,’ Van Zyl admits. ‘Batting at No 3 and opening the batting is very similar for me. Quite often a wicket would fall early and then I would be out there in the middle facing the new ball anyway.
‘I try and keep the criticism to one side. No-one’s place is guaranteed. I have closed the Indian chapter and moved on. I am fully focussed on the England series and spending as much time in the middle as possible.