To win a Test match you need to take 20 wickets, but runs on the board are rather important too, and South Africa haven’t been very good at that in the sub-continent recently.
It is the Proteas' batting that will be under the most scrutiny when the three-Test series against India starts in Visakhapatnam next Wednesday.
That area of South Africa’s game has been poor even outside the sub-continent in the last few years. In home conditions, South Africa’s batsmen have not been helped by a push for more fast bowler-friendly pitches which forced groundsmen to prepare some radically bouncy and seaming tracks.
For all of previous Proteas coach Ottis Gibson’s talk that the batsmen were happy to sacrifice their averages in order for the team to win, that sacrifice also did their confidence no good, and it all came crashing down against Sri Lanka earlier this year.
The statistics for South Africa’s batsmen in the last three series played in the sub-continent make for horrible reading. In eight Tests, only one century has been scored with just four half-centuries, and two of those were made by the now retired AB de Villiers. The other two were by Temba Bavuma.
That lone century was scored by Theunis de Bruyn in the second innings of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo last year. De Bruyn’s place in the starting XI has been heavily scrutinised due to the fact that he has failed to build on that singular success. He, like others, struggled on those seaming home tracks last summer and there was also the issue of requiring laser surgery to his eyes.
While he has battled with a back problem in the winter, De Bruyn is feeling very confident that the eye surgery will pay major dividends for him over the coming months.
Despite all the changes around the national team following the World Cup, Cricket SA have sought to give the players every bit of support ahead of the Test series against Virat Kohli’s side.
An SA "A" team containing eight players who are in the Proteas' Test squad faced India A recently. From a bowling perspective, getting some "miles in the legs" was important, just as it was crucial that the batsmen got time in the middle.
The best of the batsmen was Aiden Markram, who made 161 in the second innings of the second four-day match against India A.
For Markram and the Proteas, that innings was vital. He had problems in Sri Lanka last year that bordered on embarrassing for a player of his undoubted ability, and batting for around five hours and facing over 250 deliveries as he did in that innings will help his confidence enormously.
“It was nice to get runs,” he said in Vizianagaram yesterday ahead of the Proteas' three-day warm-up match against an India Board XI that starts today.
“In no way will the wickets play the same as they did in the A side games,” he added.
No surprise there, as India, in trying to build their stocks of young seam bowlers, have regularly played their India A side on pitches with a little bit of grass. That won’t happen in the Test matches from next week, especially following the withdrawal on Tuesday of Jasprit Bumrah.
“We are not going to harp on about conditions, we know what to expect and it’s about getting the job done,” said Markram.