Dean Elgar bats during the first Test between South Africa and India at Centurion. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/ BackpagePix
Dean Elgar bats during the first Test between South Africa and India at Centurion. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/ BackpagePix

Proteas batters need to perform in second Test to level series against India

By Stuart Hess Time of article published Jan 1, 2022

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Johannesburg - Six months without Test cricket, 1-0 down in a high profile home Test series and the sudden retirement from the Test format of one of their few genuine match-winners, the Proteas could be forgiven for feeling a little down in the dumps as the clocks ticked over into the new year.

As if 2021 hadn’t already been a rough year for South African cricket. The off field dramas are well documented, and Quinton de Kock, who quit Test cricket just hours after that defeat in the first Test to India, was a central figure in one the biggest controversies to hit the team itself, when he refused to kneel at the T20 World Cup as show of respect for Black Lives Matter.

The second Test looms large on the horizon, against a highly motivated and an extremely skillful Indian team. Virat Kohli’s men were simply better at SuperSport Park, in all departments. They set and achieved a standard, with both bat and ball and then in the field, which the Proteas couldn’t match.

It’s why, in 2021, India has consistently been the best Test side, notwithstanding the loss to New Zealand in the World Test Championship final.

ALSO READ: Proteas must show improvement to claw their way back against India without Quinton de Kock

For the Proteas to find a way back into the series at the Wanderers, the hosts need to assess where they went wrong and even what they did right in the first Test. As far as the latter goes, it was certainly the bowling which improved over the course of the four days in Centurion.

After a slow start - in which they mis-judged conditions - the bowlers showed greater intensity and aggression to apply pressure on the tourists. The first and final sessions of the opening day were however big miss-steps. India scored 105 runs in the last session on Boxing Day, counter-attacking after Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada had brought South Africa back into the contest in the afternoon.

The tourists were more in-tuned with the rhythms of five match play, something Proteas skipper Dean Elgar pointed to after the match. “(The absence) of match awareness and match fitness was evident,” he said.

Still the bowlers kept South Africa in the match and while India scored 327, there was a possibility that they would get much more at stumps on day one. The improvements seen through the latter half of India’s first innings, continued in the second where, on an admittedly more helpful surface the Proteas rolled India for 174.

ALSO READ: Did Test cricket become too much of burden for Quinton de Kock?

However, where the bowlers grew into the match, the batters didn’t. “It sounds obvious but you need runs to compete,” said Elgar. “We didn’t achieve that in the first innings, which was relatively doable for us at that stage.”

It didn’t help that Elgar and the rest of the top order were blown away inside the first 13 overs with South Africa reduced to 32/4 at that stage. India’s bowlers were flawless. Having failed to muster 200 in either innings in the first Test, it’s understandable that all options for how to turnaround their fortunes are on the table.

Elgar knows, as difficult as the task is against India’s magnificent seamers, that he and Aiden Markram need to provide a better start. Opening stands of 0, 4, 1, 2 and 1 will put anyone under pressure who is batting at No 3, nevermind a brand new player like Keegan Petersen.

Rather than move him down the order as Elgar said would be a topic for discussion, the more urgent need is for the opening combination to be better. Perhaps that is worthy of debate, with perhaps Sarel Erwee, coming into reckoning and a shift down the order for Markram.

ALSO READ: Proteas crumble in second innings as India get historic 113 run win

There’ll already be one change in the middle order - which was known before the series with Kyle Verreynne replacing De Kock - but is Ryan Rickelton, who has made two hundreds for the Lions at The Wanderers this season also worth consideration? If that is the case, then it would change the nature of the bowling unit.

Marco Jansen, bowled very well especially from the third day onwards in Centurion, and certainly out-performed Wiaan Mulder with the bat. One consideration would be to drop Mulder for Rickelton, thereby lengthening the batting, while Keshav Maharaj could be sacrificed for Duanne Olivier and make for an all pace attack.

There is a lot to consider, but it ultimately rests with the South African batters and especially the opening pair. To win a Test, the old saying goes, ‘you need to take 20 wickets, to win Test matches’ but you also won’t win Tests without making runs. The Proteas need to start scoring again.

@shockerhess

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