Unlike England’s batting plan – which centres around batting big, hard and long – SA have to be much more circumspect. They don’t have a Chris Woakes, Liam Dawson, Tom Curran or Jofra Archer who can all bat coming in at No 8, 9, 10 and 11. It’s up to the top six and most likely Andile Phehlukwayo, who will slot in at No 7, to ensure runs are scored or chased down.
Du Plessis and Ottis Gibson’s belief that they may not need scores of 350 – as England have managed to score on a regular basis in the last 18 months - is optimistic, but it’s grounded in solid reasoning, given SA’s bowlers.
However ahead of the tournament, the batting remains a major concern. Can Hashim Amla find form? Can Du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen and Quinton de Kock, retain theirs? How will JP Duminy fare after playing so few matches last season? Can David Miller switch on the tournament button as he has done previously? Has Phehlukwayo’s batting really improved enough to make him a solid No 7?
And what of the lower-order, who have contributed so little? Can they squeeze 70 runs together in a run-chase? Gibson and Du Plessis realise theirs is a high-risk strategy. In the last two years in which they have trialled so many players, structure and flexibility have been important for the batsmen. It’s why there was so much fretting over that spare batting spot, which eventually went to Aiden Markram after he showed at domestic level that he could bat anywhere from No 1 to 5 in the order.
Du Plessis mentioned that he and Van der Dussen may swap positions No 3 and 4 at some point, although it is most likely the SA skipper will keep himself at “first drop” the majority of the time.
“Flexibility is hugely important as a batting unit,” Du Plessis said. The fact that Duminy, Miller and Markram have batted at various positions in the order will prove beneficial, as it will allow Du Plessis to utilise them at different points in the innings. It will not be “willy-nilly” however.
“It will be situational based, you will find yourself in different scenarios in the game and then you have to adapt your skill set for what is required at that stage,” Du Plessis said.
With big totals being forecast for the World Cup, Miller’s role is crucial. He can take advantage of a good start, propelling a potential score of 280 to something in the region of 340. He provided an example of that, earlier last summer in the deciding match of the series against Australia in Hobart. Coming to the crease in the 16th over he alongside Du Plessis added 252 runs for fourth wicket, with Miller, pictured, scoring 139 off 108 balls.
“We know with Dave that he needs a bit of time. He’s at his best when he can knock the ball around and then explode towards the end,” said Du Plessis.
Miller is also a fine tournament player and many of his best innings for SA have come in knockout matches or in series deciders.
Duminy offered a glimpse of a more liberated and aggressive player in SA’s series win in Sri Lanka last year, but since last year’s home series against Zimbabwe, he has played just 12 matches, having spent a lot of time sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Just like Amla, he needs time in the middle in those two warm-up matches SA will play this week.@shockerhess