JOHANNESBURG - The South African bowlers have been happy to bear the heavier load that is the product of their batting teammates’ shortcomings, but on the cusp of the new season they wouldn’t mind seeing some stability, big scoring and consistency from their batting brothers over the course of the 2017/18 summer.
“Ultimately,” the typically candid Dean Elgar remarked this week, “our batting has been our weakness. With the talent we have in the top six, even with our back-up batter, what we’ve been doing does not reflect the standards we set.”
He’s right. South Africa has scored over 400 runs in an innings just three times in the last 13 Tests - twice against Sri Lanka last season. There have been just 12 individual hundreds - a third of those by one batsman, Elgar, while only three players have scored more than 500 runs in 2017.
For seamer Vernon Philander the matter remains simple. "You’ve got to take 20 wickets and you’ve got to score as many runs as possible,” he said.
“As a unit, in all honesty, we weren’t at our best in England, there’s no shying away from that, but this series allows us to really nail down our basics, get big runs and obviously bowl Bangladesh out in two Tests, which will set us up for the rest of the summer.”
Last summer the South African team requested curators prepare greener tracks when Sri Lanka toured, which made life harder for the batsmen. This was partly responsible for the under-performance of the batting unit, but also played into the hands of South Africa’s major strength - its seamers.
Dry weather and a lack of grass cover in Potchefstroom does give rise to an intriguing decision over the composition of the starting team for Thursday.
In the last Test against England, South Africa played seven frontline batsmen, due to the injuries to Philander and Chris Morris. Theunis de Bruyn, the extra batsman in that Test, showed excellent form for the Knights in the opening round of the Sunfoil Series last week scoring 195 in total against the Cobras, but could sit out if the selectors bolster the bowling on what may be a slow and low surface.
That could mean a Test debut for Andile Phehlukwayo, who impressed with the bat for the Dolphins against the Titans but was less threatening with the ball, conceding runs at too high a rate - 4.84 an over in the first innings and 6.57 in the second - while going wicketless.
Whatever direction the selectors take, the absence of Dale Steyn and Philander again places a heavy burden on new-ball pair Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada just as was the case in England. There Rabada wasn’t at his best, only occasionally finding the right rhythm. Morkel was South Africa’s best bowler, picking up 19 wickets in the series, and he relished being leader of the attack.
With Steyn still out, Duanne Olivier will continue as the support seamer, while Keshav Maharaj, if conditions are slow and low as many in the Proteas squad believe, will have a major role to play, further underlining his rapidly growing importance to the side.