LONDON - South Africa is leaning closer and closer to choosing a five-man attack - including four seamers - for the second Test against England starting at Trent Bridge on Friday, thereby breaking with a structure that has served the team very well in the last five years.
Since Gary Kirsten’s time as coach, South Africa have preferred using seven batsmen and four bowlers. But needing to win the second Test, having capitulated so badly at Lord’s, they are looking to change what’s worked well for them.
Ironically, it was the batting that failed in the first Test and in order to include the four seamers for the Trent Bridge Test, it’s a batsman that’s likely to fall out. In this case it would be Theunis de Bruyn, which would be unfortunate given how well he played in the first innings at Lord’s.
Faf du Plessis hinted at utilising four seamers after the first Test, but it was felt the selectors would drop left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj. That is something the captain is reluctant to do though, so a batsman it may be with Chris Morris coming into the starting team, along with Duanne Olivier, who’ll replace the suspended Kagiso Rabada.
“All depends on conditions... Lord’s turned square on day 4, a similar thing may happen here,” remarked Morne Morkel. “It’s always nice to have the extra partner who can bowl seam. If that’s not the case, then as three seaners we need to step up.”
Du Plessis will slot in for JP Duminy, whose only role at training on Wednesday was to offer throwdowns to his teammates.
The pitch is understood to still have a fair amount of moisture in it and so will assist swing bowling on the first day. It is expected to aide the spinners on day four and five and given how the South Africans succumbed to spin at Lord’s, England certainly wouldn’t mind seeing that.
But the pressure the tourists can exert over a sustained period on England’s batsmen with four seamers is an element that does warrant consideration. Vernon Philander has looked stronger at training than was the case at Lord’s but there is still a sense that his third spell in a day is not as strong as his first.
Morkel mentioned an important point about how much more Rabada’s absence will hurt the team, other than just his innate brilliance.
“We are going to miss KG, he has the ability to bowl long spells, fast and with a lot of energy.”
Having both Morris and Olivier on the field will give Du Plessis that extra option and ensure they are all relatively fresh for later in the day.
That of course means the batsmen have to do their jobs a whole lot better. Quinton de Kock will slot in at No 6, Philander and Morris at 7 and 8, respectively, and there will be a lot more responsibility placed on the batsmen’s shoulders, even as some of them haven’t been as consistent as they’d want.
The selectors must hope that by shrinking the batting order from seven to six frontliners it will help to focus their minds a little more - they can’t expect to be bailed out by the next man in.
Morkel insisted that despite the bowlers seemingly having gotten the team out of trouble in a number of instances in recent times, that was no sense of an “us versus them” split happening in the squad between batsmen and bowlers. “We are all in this together,” he remarked.
As a further illustration that each player had to demand improvement of themselves, Morkel spoke openly about the problems he’s had with no-balls.
He’s picked up more wickets off no-balls, 13, than anyone else: "Somebody needs to hold one record,” he quipped. “It’s unacceptable, it’s controllable. I need a lot of rhythm and for me timing is crucial. I feel the more I bowl in a Test match, the better my timing, the better I feel at the crease.”
Morkel dismissed Ben Stokes off a no-ball at Lord’s. “It’s just a rush of blood to the head, wanting to create something with a softer, older ball. It’s something we will work on to get better at... that wasn’t the first no-ball I’ve bowled... it’s not going to end my career.”