JOHANNESBURG - There will be a much more positive atmosphere in the Proteas camp on Monday as they start final preparations, ahead of Thursday’s first Test at Lord’s.
It’s been a difficult tour, on and off the field for players and management, but they appear to have had a good few days in Worcester where they played a strong England Lions team and for the most part got what they wanted out of that three-day game.
There is still no word on whether Faf du Plessis will join the team in time for Thursday opener, but the Test side has shown in the last year that it is a resilient group and they’ll rally around Dean Elgar should he lead them at Lord’s.
Although Elgar didn’t get many runs against the Lions, he’ll have been pleased that most of the batsmen spent time at the crease in the warm-up match that ended at New Road on Saturday. Time in the middle was the priority, but runs on the board for Heino Kuhn, who’s set to make his Test debut at Lord’s, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma, would have lifted their confidence.
“What I’ve found is that ball swings for a lot longer even when it gets older,” Bavuma, who scored 85 not out, said of English conditions. “You have to be certain about what you’re trying to do. Wickets are a touch slower than what we’re used to back home.”
While Elgar would have enjoyed a longer stay than just the 10 minutes he had at the crease, his form in recent weeks for Somerset suggests he's in fine fettle ahead of the four-match Test series. Of concern among the batsmen is JP Duminy, who spent just 35 minutes at the crease against the Lions and scored 25, while Theunis de Bruyn, who is set to occupy a spot in the middle order at Lord’s if Du Plessis is absent, scored nought. He also struggled for SA ‘A’ on their recent tour and the selectors may think about including an additional all-rounder - most likely Chris Morris - for the first Test.
In mulling over the make up of the starting team, the selectors will also be keeping a close eye on Vernon Philander. He played no part in the match against the Lions after suffering an ankle injury while playing for Surrey two weeks ago but has been passed fit to play this week and ensuring he doesn’t re-injure himself in the lead up to the first Test, will be the selectors primary concern.
The rest of the bowlers got through a good amount of work against the Lions although bowling coach Charl Langeveldt was unhappy about the 13 no-balls - nine by Kagiso Rabada - that were served up.
“Our guys bowled well, besides the no-balls, we got two wickets off no-balls, which is a concern. It is something that we will need to correct going forward,” said Langeveldt. “It has been a problem in the past but KG (Rabada) has had a few weeks off so he will hit his straps and will be ready for Thursday. As a bowling unit I think we went well.”
Rabada, Morne Morkel and Morris bowled a combined 47 overs against the Lions, with left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj getting through 18 overs. Ironically, given his batting problems De Bruyn, showed he might be an option with the ball picking up two wickets.