Johannesburg — Having Malusi Siboto, Duanne Olivier, Lutho Sipamla and Sisanda Magala to practice against has greatly aided Ryan Rickelton’s development as a batter this season.
There was a lot of work Rickelton had to do himself of course, but it was useful to gauge how well his off-season work functioned, by putting himself up against the most fearsome quartet of bowlers on the domestic circuit. “We usually get good spicy wickets at the Wanderers nets, and obviously, you ask the guys to take the newest balls they can get, and we have a proper contest,” Rickelton said on Wednesday. “I know if I’m holding my own against them, not getting out, and playing good shots against them, it's a good sign for me.”
Rickelton’s the 10th highest run-scorer in this season’s Four-Day competition, but he’s one of just three batters to score two centuries so far. Both of those hundreds came at the Wanderers, in matches in which the opposing teams got bowled out for under 200.
Rickelton’s form this season, which was rewarded with what for him was a surprising call up to the Proteas Test squad for the three match series against India, is a continuation of good form he had last summer. He averaged 48.33 in the abbreviated Four-Day competition, and continued that run on the winter tour to Zimbabwe with the South Africa A side, where he scored a century and a ninety in the two first class matches.
“Going into pre-season I put a big emphasis on Four-Day cricket. I’m starting to wrap my head around my own personal game now. I finally have something I can stick with, that I can trust. My technique in the few seasons before last was always changing and I wasn’t fully set on the type of player I wanted to be,” said Rickelton.
“I always felt I had the patience that allowed me to bat for long periods of time and I was really just trying to make sure that when I played Four-Day cricket for the Lions, I had a plan, a good defense to start with and then discipline which I really worked on - that discipline outside off-stump, being patient and making sure I was hard on myself.”
The runs started flowing last season and have continued to do so this summer. The hard hitting left-hander, usually an opener, had to shift down the order occasionally last season when the Lions’ Proteas contingent was available. He’s now settled on the no.3 spot with his province. “I actually wanted to go 4, but 3 was the role that was given to me. It’s still a spot in the top order.”
The new position does align with the 25 year old’s more mature approach to batting. “I needed to develop a game plan and understand a new role, but it is nice to finally have a set position.”
“There is pressure on you. The further down the order you bat the more situational it gets. It’s about driving the nail home when things are going well and the openers have given you a good start or really lock in and make sure the opposition doesn’t go ‘bang bang’ and you expose the middle order too early.”
He cites an Australian trio as providing examples that he likes to follow. “In the old days I used to enjoy how Mike Hussey went about it. These days I look a lot at (Marnus) Labuschagne and (Steve) Smith...I’m not as unorthodox as them, but I’m not overly technically orthodox in that sense either. I like the positions they get into and how they confront the game, their attitudes towards the game and how they get into the contest.”
While Rickelton’s form is worthy of a call up to the Proteas squad, whether he can break into the starting team, is a different matter. He won’t knock off skipper Dean Elgar or Aiden Markram at the top of the order, and it would be unfair on Keegan Petersen if he were overlooked.
Petersen has played just two Tests, and so far this season he’s made three fifties and a couple of forties. It could be argued that Petersen, should have turned those starts into hundreds, like Rickelton did on two occasions, but given he’s only had the two matches in the Caribbean it is worth sticking with the Dolphins right-hander for now.
However Rickelton has made a very strong case for himself and the more competition for positions, the better for the national team.