Cape Town – There is something to be said about “lucky No 7”, and Proteas coach Gary Kirsten certainly believes it is the unique advantage his team have over the rest of the world.
In fact, Kirsten went so far as to affirm at Newlands on Wednesday that it was the “X-factor” that had driven his team to the summit of the ICC Test rankings.
Kirsten, who previously led India to the Test No 1 ranking and World Cup glory, has been a firm believer in playing seven frontline batsmen since wicket-keeper Mark Boucher suffered a career-ending injury prior to the England series mid-year.
“We can pick a No 7 batter, and that has helped us in certain situations. We don’t take that combination lightly. We know how important that is to our Test side in terms of the performances that we all want. There might come a time when we need to look at it another way, but for now we have that,” the former Proteas opener said.
The length of South Africa’s batting unit certainly paid dividends in both the England and Australia series, which the Proteas won 2-0 and 1-0 respectively.
JP Duminy performed the role with distinction in England, where he not only scored vital runs but also shepherded the tail to safety in the all-important final Test at Lord’s.
And when Duminy suffered a freak injury at the close of the first day’s play in the opening Test in Brisbane, Faf du Plessis stepped up and raised the bar even further.
Two innings of 78 were courageous in their own right in the following two Tests, but they both paled in comparison with the Titans star’s herculean 466-minute effort in Adelaide, where he remained undefeated on 114 to save the second Test.
South Africa have enjoyed the luxury of seven batsmen thanks to the balance premier all-rounder Jacques Kallis and wicket-keeper AB de Villiers bring to the side. Both players have been under strain, though: Kallis due to an injury that saw him play solely as a batsman in the final Test in Perth, and De Villiers through batting form before his century at the Waca.
Kirsten emphasised the duo’s importance to the Proteas yesterday, and especially Kallis, whom he said he would nurse through the twilight years of a stellar career as he did with Sachin Tendulkar during his stint with India.
It also involved trying to find a replacement for the 37-year-old.
“Yes, we’ve got to work on that, without a doubt. Jacques is loving his cricket at the moment and is keen to keep playing, so we want to encourage that. We’ve got to be mindful that we need to broaden our base and I’ve been encouraged by some new guys who’ve come in during this series.
“Not having Jacques might affect our balance in a way, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes. We’ll certainly keep the old dog on the road for as long as possible,” Kirsten quipped.
“We need to consider [scaling down] his bowling – it was good to play in a Test match a few days ago where he only batted; a chance to see what we could do with just three seamers, and it went exceptionally well, I thought.”
Kirsten hinted, though, that De Villiers, who captains the Proteas in limited-overs cricket, may be given some respite in one-day cricket to lighten his workload.
“It hasn’t been discussed among the selectors yet. We’re having a meeting sometime next week. It certainly is a possibility; his workload is pretty hectic at present,” Kirsten said. “But he’s also only kept in six Test matches and I thought he kept outstandingly in Australia – as good as I’ve seen. So I was really encouraged by that.”
The Proteas’ next Test assignment is a two-Test series against New Zealand next January, where the world’s No 1 side will be expected to extend their lead against a team ranked only above lowly Bangladesh on the Test table. – The Mercury