JOHANNESBURG - After a disastrous Tour of England, which included a 3-1 Test series loss, Stuart Hess looks at four areas that need urgent attention in the national team, and one point for the Proteas new coach to ponder.
A new opening batsman
It would seem this job is being kept for Aiden Markram. The selectors have been cautious, not wanting to expose him to Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad in England. This raised eyebrows - “if he’s good enough he should play” - but that’s the call that’s been made. So, South African cricket must stick with the 22 year old. It would be welcome if he made some big runs early in his career to ease the pressure, but if SA stick to playing sides from the sub-continent on green pitches at home, then Markram’s going to face some challenging knocks against Bangladesh next month. But the Proteas almost have nowhere else to go in this department - Markram simply has to work.
A stable middle order
Three different batsmen in the No 4 spot spoke to a confusing selection policy, a lack of form (in JP Duminy’s case) and a lack of confidence in players to assert themselves. No 4 is a vital spot in the order, it’s where rhythm for the innings is set and the player who occupies that position usually is required to put the opposition bowlers under pressure. Faf du Plessis wants to back Temba Bavuma in that spot, and you can’t argue with the little right hander’s technique and temperament. But he needs long-term support there and he also has to show he can play with greater attacking intent.
He has become arguably the most important member of the Test team. A fully fit Vernon Philander means South Africa can play four bowlers - three seamers and the spinner - if there are concerns about Philander - it turns into four seamers and the spinner. Du Plessis was very direct when the said Philander needs to get fitter - to extend his own international career - and make the South African Test team better. The man himself needs to employ a personal fitness trainer and throw himself into his work - he’s too valuable an asset for his career to simply fritter away.
AB de Villiers, Morne Morkel and JP Duminy
Two out of those three want talks with the new coach and Cricket SA about their futures. Duminy hasn’t stated yet what he wants to do but it would only be fair for CSA to gain some clarity from him as well as to where his future lies. Together that trio has 230 Test caps between them, that kind of experience is hard to replace. Ideally - and especially if Duminy can regain form and confidence - you’d want them back in the Test side, but too many mixed messages are being sent and some stability through clarity is required.
The boys can be proud of the fight they showed throughout the Series! #ProteaFire
Different formats, different coaches
It’s worth some serious thinking. The two white ball versions of the game are already so different and Test cricket is even further away from the two limited overs formats. It appears CSA will appoint just one coach and perhaps that coach needs to have a couple of high-powered assistants - one solely responsible for Test cricket and the other for the limited overs formats. Its surely makes sense to separate the two, particularly with the 2019 World Cup increasingly looking some form of “Holy Grail” for South African cricket.