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There's still a vacancy at the top of the Proteas' order

Proteas
TEST match openers of enduring quality can not just be created. They are a rare breed, creatures of unusual habits and even more unusual powers of concentration.

They are often underrated by the masses, but lauded within the confines of the team sheds, because every one in there knows just how tough a gig they have.

South African cricket currently has a vacancy for a man of considerable substance to step into the breach because, to all intents and purposes, the current arrangement has turned Hashim Amla into a virtual opening bat himself.

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Dean Elgar has been a "lone soldier" for the Proteas' top order. Photo: John Cowpland / www.photosport.nz

Of all the ailments that the mighty Hash could list, pad-rash has not been on the roster for a long, long time.

Dean Elgar has been a lone soldier, and even he took a while to get comfortable at the front of the bus.

It’s a lonely place up there, and the world is full of expert purveyors of swing, seam and speed, all gunning for prospective bunnies in headlights.

The Proteas, for all their strengths, have an Achilles heel atop their batting card, and it is affecting their balance. Incredibly, the selectors seem determined to plug the square gap with round stoppers. It can’t be done, and even if it does a job in the short-term, it’s a long-term recipe for disaster and confusion.

You feel for Theunis de Bruyn. All he’s ever wanted to do is play for his country. So, when the vacancy opened up against the new ball, he was never going to say no. He means well, as do the selectors. But it’s as misguided as giving Keshav Maharaj the new ball in overcast conditions.

Sure, he may winkle an edge, but using a new ball is not his strength. Never will be. And asking him to do so would be setting him up for failure.

De Bruyn is on that road to nowhere, his undoubted repertoire of skills employed in the wrong department of a high-pressure arena.

Stiaan van Zyl knows all too well how exhausting and unsustainable it is up there, and perhaps he sent some Whatsapp crumbs of comfort. Neil McKenzie also knows just how tough it is for a middle-order maverick to adjust to life in the fast lane.

Openers cannot be created, and the sooner the national selectors embrace that notion, the better for all parties. De Bruyn is a talent, no doubt. But his bounty lies at 4 and 5, when the ball doesn’t dance and deceive, and when most of the fielders are no longer behind you, but spread around.

You’ve got to feel for the kid, and hope sanity prevails this winter. The Proteas have finally settled on a skipper. They have also found a spinner of consistency and skill. Now, they must fill a vacancy that has been exposed for a while now.

You can’t wish an opener into existence. You’ve got to find one, and then back him for a full summer at least, come hell or high water.

It’s the toughest gig in the game, and it demands a specialist with at least a few years of experience.

The suits need to start respecting that sobering reality.

Weekend Argus

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