MANCHESTER, England - “We let ourselves down with the bat,” claimed a more refreshed looking Vernon Philander at Old Trafford on Wednesday afternoon, emphasising that the South Africans believe that is the area that needs to be fixed urgently if the series with England is to be saved.
The batting was definitely poor at The Oval. In the first innings there was a terrible top order collapse that left the Proteas 61/7 and in the second innings they kept losing wickets in clusters.
It won’t be a simple problem to resolve either. Heino Kuhn needs a major score at Old Trafford, or his Test career will be limited to just this series, while Hashim Amla needs to rekindle one more piece of magic to help revitalise his recent form. Faf du Plessis just needs to use his bat.
One interesting thought that Russell Domingo admitted had crossed his mind, was to shift Temba Bavuma up to No 4.
“It’s something we’ve spoken about, even before the second match,” Domingo said this week.
“I wasn’t there to get the gist of how guys were feeling at that stage but it’s something we’re speaking about.”
There are variables that needed to be considered here.
The message it would send to the England team is that South Africa is a team in a state of chaos. Bavuma, if No 4, will be the third person to occupy that premier spot in the order in this series.
Then there is the demands it places on Bavuma himself. Currently in the No 6 spot, he is finding himself more often than not having to salvage the innings because of the top order’s shortcomings.
He’s doing his job very well in those tough situations - averaging above 40 when he comes to the crease with the South African total less than 100. But it’s also not giving his talents the best opportunity to thrive either.
A move to four gives him time. That, in fact, was the thought process that drove Faf du Plessis to ask Quinton de Kock to play there at Trent Bridge.
It worked fine in the first innings, not so much in the second while at The Oval where he contributed only 22.
How much of that was down to the fact that in both innings’ he came to the crease reasonably early after two lengthy stints behind the stumps, is perhaps premature to judge at this stage.
But it is a risk that the Proteas are taking as the endless tinkering with the batting order continues. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a fair, long term option for De Kock.
For all of De Kock’s wonderful flair, what Bavuma will bring is some solidity and that must be given more than just a passing thought by the selectors when they discuss the options for the Old Trafford Test.
Dean Elgar spoke strongly about Bavuma after The Oval saying: “His gameplan looks the best out of all our batters.”
“He showed a massive amount of fight, his ability to adapt in the different scenarios and situations though the game has been a massive positive for him.”
So, how about getting him to adapt to a different scenario by playing him higher up in the order at No 4?
It’s a position he wants to play in.
“Personally, if the opportunity is there, I’d like to bat higher up the order,” he said in an interview in April.
As this series has shown, Bavuma is capable of increasing his scoring rate when the situation demands.
It may in fact be the first of the long-term moves the selectors make with the batting order that is certainly in need of much tinkering.