BENONI - Perhaps due to a lack of decent options in the Shield competition, but it does appear that Australia’s selectors have shown a lot of faith (and patience) with opener Cameron Bancroft.
An unbeaten 82 in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane - along with the hilarious "headbutting" affair involving England’s Jonny Bairstow - was just about the only impact he had on that series.
He finished that Test series, his first, with an average of 25.57, and there were concerns that if he couldn’t score runs on what were mostly flat surfaces in Australia, how he’d cope in South Africa where the pitches for the four Tests are supposed to be a little livelier.
So for Bancroft, his innings here on Friday - and parts of Thursday evening - was crucial in providing him with some confidence, while comforting Australia’s selectors ahead of the opening match in Durban next week.
Bar Steve Smith, Australia’s batting in the Ashes was largely inconsistent, and Bancroft’s poor form at the top of their order would have played some role in that.
So for him to bat for over three hours here, on a pitch where the bounce has quickly become inconsistent, was a major step. By no means will Russell Domingo, the SA A side coach, be sending messages to the Proteas that Bancroft is a huge threat, but he will point out that there’s a resoluteness about him that South Africa’s star-studded bowlers will need to be aware of.
Bancroft will be the perfect foil for the far more flamboyant David Warner, who is playing no part in this match after arriving late in the country because he was captaining Australia’s T20 team in New Zealand.
Warner’s form this summer has not been wonderful either, but he does have an excellent record against the Proteas, largely built on the superb series he had here in 2014, scoring over 500 runs in three Tests.
Warner has said he is looking forward to the fire and brimstone that many expect will be unleashed in the four Tests from the respective fast bowlers, and while Bancroft may not share that level of bravado, after his innings here, he’ll believe he’s ready to face the test from the home bowlers.
It was a far from aesthetically joyful knock, but it was gutsy - a sort of right handed version of Dean Elgar, without being hit on the body as much. Bancroft scored 45, and was, judging by his reaction, not best pleased with Umpire Phillip Vosloo raising his finger when he flicked at a ball down the leg-side. Bancroft’s very animated display of disappointment, suggests a player that felt he needs a score - he’s only gone past 50 twice, both in the Big Bash, since that half-century in Brisbane - and was robbed of the opportunity of another half-century here.
Australia’s middle order found the going hard against Beuran Hendricks and Malusi Siboto, and the tourists slumped to 226/8. But Pat Cummins, having picked up four wickets on Thursday, then showed off his prowess with the bat, scoring an unbeaten 59, in just over two hours at the crease as the Australians stretched their lead passed 100. Hendricks, who put in a lengthy shift, finished with 5/83, while Siboto picked up 2/56.
South Africa A trail by 54 runs.