JOHANNESBURG - Jacques Kallis will have an enormous job on his hands as the Proteas’ short term batting consultant, trying to raise the spirits of a batting unit low on confidence against a high quality and experienced English pace attack.
South Africa’s batsmen have scored a total of 10 Test hundreds in the last two years - 17 matches, 12 of them at home.
Much was made of the strategy employed on home-soil during Ottis Gibson’s tenure of the creation of seamer friendly wickets, which while good for the fast bowlers made life difficult for the home team’s batsmen. Gibson used to insist that South Africa’s batsmen bought into the strategy, left their egos in the parking lot and were willing to sacrifice their averages for the good of the team.
What they also sacrificed, however, was their confidence. “I am concerned with how we are going to bat, we need to score big runs against (England’s) attack, and the worry is how do we get those runs on the board?” Allan Donald wondered.
“How are we going to get that confidence back, against an attack that has Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, even Mark Wood? We are going to be severely tested.”
Donald is right and the statistics over the last two years make that clear. The Proteas tied themselves in knots over the batting order in India, particularly the position of captain Faf du Plessis.
Head coach Mark Boucher, along with Kallis, Du Plessis and the senior playing core of the squad need to resolve that particular issue as quickly as possible over the coming days while they are all in camp together at Centurion. And then they need to focus on others like Aiden Markram’s form and fitness, Temba Bavuma’s confidence and where to bat Quinton de Kock.
England’s Test form may not be the best but in Anderson, Broad, Archer, Chris Woakes and once he’s fit Wood, they have a group of seam bowlers capable of taking advantage of any assistance there maybe in the surfaces at the four Test venues.
“England have a really good attack; lots of pace, experience and good variety and we are going to be tested in this series, especially against the new ball,” said Donald. “If we can get our batting right, it will be a tight series.”
“If” is a big two-letter word in this case, and if it doesn’t go right for the batsmen, there will be huge pressure on South Africa’s bowlers, particularly Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada. Both of them, along with Anrich Nortje have not had a lot of overs in their legs recently owing to their participation in the Mzansi Super League.
It will be a big challenge for the newly appointed bowling consultant Charl Langeveldt, who returned to the country yesterday after being released from his contract with the Bangladesh Cricket Board.
“He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t say much in team meetings, he does all his work on the training ground. He is unassuming, moves under the radar and connects well one on one, that’s where he gets the best out of his bowlers,” Donald said.
Donald isn’t worried that the fast bowlers have bowled too little in recent weeks - a concern expressed privately in a number of quarters within CSA’s high performance network.
“The modern day guys adapt very well because they play so much,” he said. “It can sometimes take a little while to settle into the red ball game, but I think they should do so easily.”
The first Test against England starts next Thursday.