5 things we learnt after the second Test between SA and Sri Lanka
JOHANNESBURG – In the end the Proteas easily beat the small island nation at the Wanderers on Tuesday. But, one can argue that the 10 wicket victory flattered to deceive, as there are still a couple of concerns for coach Mark Boucher, but equally some exciting positives.
Here, we look at a handful of aspects that revealed themselves during the three days at the Bullring.
1 THE BOWLING UNIT NEEDS A LEADER
Look, this is by no means to cast aspersions on the efforts of Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi, Lutho Sipamla, Wiaan Mulder and Keshav Maharaj – who did not bowl in Johannesburg – but there is definitely a lack of direction at times within the bowling attack. At times they were wayward in their lines and lengths, and seemed to lack a degree of intensity as they went about their work.
They were aided massively by the indiscipline of the Sri Lankan batsmen, especially in the second innings. When they did hit the right areas, and bowled with some menace, they were brilliant but their inexperience showed. Against hardened teams, with all due respect to Sri Lanka, they will be eviscerated, especially if they bowl the way they did at the end of day 2.
It is important to remember, however, that the four pacemen have played less than 20 Tests combined, and if you place the injured Kagiso Rabada – a veteran of 45 Tests and 197 wickets – into the team, then the unit takes on a much meaner, leaner look already.
2 THE MIDDLE-ORDER IS STILL WOBBLY
The first innings collapse of the South African batting order revealed a still soft under-belly that was not pleasing to watch if you are a Proteas’ fan, and certainly not agreeable if you are the coach, Mark Boucher.
The Proteas lost nine wickets for 84 runs, with the batting card reading Faf du Plessis 8; Quinton de Kock 10, Temba Bavuma 19, Wiaan Mulder 7, Keshav Maharaj 2, Anrich Nortje 13, Lutho Sipamla 5 and Lungi Ngidi 14 not out. Up until then, they were in complete control at 218/1. In the first Test, against a depleted and ailing Sri Lankan bowling attack, the continued deficiencies of the middle-to-lower order were glossed over, but here at the Wanderers it reared its ugly head again against disciplined bowling.
As the Proteas now prepare for a Test series in Pakistan, Boucher and Co will have to find answers to the woes of the batting line-up, lest there is a repeat performance in a two Test match series on the sub-continent from the end of January.
And nobody will like that.
3 MULDER HAS THE X-FACTOR
Lutho Sipamla had his moments during the Test series – he took 10 wickets after all – and is definitely a player that has a lot of growth in the future. He will be especially important going forward as the Proteas begin a process to rebuild and shoring up their fast-bowler stock. Rainy days filled with injuries do and will come after all.
Mulder, on the other hand, resolved a bunch of issues after another solid, if not spectacular, display during this Test. The search for an all-rounder might be over for SA as Mulder, considered a better batsman than bowler, can slot neatly into this team. The 22-year-old took nine wickets in the series, and during the first innings at the Bullring, was the catalyst that jump-started the South African attack. He didn’t have an earth-shattering start to his Test career with bat-in-hand for sure, but given enough time, that should rectify itself. He can bat at five and bowl first-change, and therefore takes selection pressure off of the Proteas, who can now field three frontline bowlers, a spinner and Mulder in all Test matches going forward no worries and that should certainly be the future objective.
4 ELGAR IS A TREASURE
At 33, the opener is getting on a bit, but he remains effervescent. He scored a classic, characteristic ton, his 13th Test century, in this match in the first innings, and was the highest run scored in the series – 253 runs at an average 126.5 in three innings. In the last five years he has scored the second most runs as an opener, only losing the top spot this past week.
For his efforts this past fortnight, he was awarded the Player of the Match here, and the Player of the Series award. He still has a fistful of years in him, and it will no doubt be a pleasure to watch, hard graft and all.
5 DECISION-MAKING BY COMMITTEE
This was Quinton de Kock’s first Test series as captain and it might be too early to make a judgement on his leadership. What was clear during the two games was that there is a core group of veteran players that are all chipping in with advice. That is required at the moment, as the Proteas rebuild their side. As mentioned above, the bowling unit are all inexperienced, while Rassie van der Dussen has played only seven Tests.
Is there an alternative to De Kock? There were murmurs that perhaps Elgar should take over the Test captaincy reigns, and there will probably be few who can argue against that. Aiden Markram and Temba Bavuma are the other options but both have yet to lock down a spot in the Test side. The Tour of Pakistan will give a measure of clarity as to the future of De Kock as skipper, and for now – having secured a series win alongside Boucher – the discussion might just be moot.