Five lessons from South Africa’s four-match series against England, which they lost 2-1.
Rabada is a mainstay
Yes, Kagiso Rabada needs to be managed carefully, but he should still be a first-choice for the Test side. South Africa don’t play a lot of Test cricket, especially compared to England and Australia. Rabada, who is now a mainstay in all three formats, should be managed and rested for the shorter formats with Tests taking priority for the foreseeable future. Coaches always say, to expect consistency from young players is unrealistic. We should therefore not build up Rabada to hero status and break him down when he fails or struggles for consistency.
Selection headaches ahead
Rabada and Temba Bavuma’s rise during the series has left the selectors with plenty to ponder. The selectors have been guilty of too many selection blunders of late and coach Russell Domingo and former captain Hashim Amla, who help to pick the final XI, should also share some of the blame. The top five are sorted. Positions six and eight less so. When Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander come back, there will be four seamers to choose from. JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis are also competing for a place in the middle order. If they pick four seamers, one of Du Plessis or Duminy can play. If they play three seamers, someone will have to be dropped and both Du Plessis and Duminy can play. Then there’s still the specialist spinner’s position. The competition for places has never been greater.
Since stepping down as captain Hashim Amla has scored a hundred and 96. Since taking over the captaincy AB de Villiers has three ducks in a row. Coincidence? Probably. De Villiers had a series to forget. He failed to score a hundred and caused doubt over his long-term future in Test cricket. He has now recommitted himself to Tests beyond this series, which is a good sign, but he needs to handle his press conferences better because phrases like ‘I almost feel like all hope is gone’ after the Wanderers Test should not be said by a captain whose own commitment was questioned at the time.
Stephen Cook is a Test opener
Some will still argue his call-up came too late, but the point is he is there now and looked at home at international level during his debut. Cook is an experienced cricketer, clearly knows his own game very well and knew exactly where his off-stump was. He left well and showed good patience at the crease. It bodes well for the future as South Africa have been lacking a solid opening partnership for a while now. If Dean Elgar can convert his starts into big scores more often, he and Cook could go on to be very successful for the Proteas at the top of the order.
Injuries played a part
It was billed as a massive series between two closely matched sides. Now that it’s all over, it feels like a bit of an anti-climax. The biggest reason for this was the absence of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander through injury. Only the one Test in Cape Town was closely contested. The rest were runaway victories. While Rabada came through nicely, Morne Morkel had a disappointing series while Kyle Abbott, Hardus Viljoen and Chris Morris were used without much success. Any team would struggle without their two best bowlers, especially in the conditions we saw at the Wanderers and Centurion. The batting still struggled, but in the end the biggest difference between the two teams was the quality of the bowling attacks.