JOHANNESBURG – The Proteas have not minded taking body blows before raising their bats against Pakistan, and even with the series won, they won’t mind doing so again in the third Test at the Wanderers.
The squad’s rookie, Zubayr Hamza, has quickly bought into that line of thinking, and if as expected he does make his Test debut on Friday, he’ll be happy to follow the example set in this series by Faf du Plessis, who owing to a one-match suspension Hamza is likely to replace, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma.
All of them have sacrificed elegance for substance and averages for effectiveness.
It’s not been a pretty series for the batsmen. The respective bowling units are very good, and they’ve been provided plenty of help by pitches that have heavily favoured pace bowling.
“It adds a lot of value to the runs that have been scored in this series,” Hamza said on Wednesday about the batting in the first two Tests.
“The pitches have been challenging, it’s never easy when it’s inconsistent bounce. It’s been tough for the batsmen...
“To me, it’s got nothing to do with techniques and a lot more to do with mental strength. In the change-room, we’ve valued those innings where they’ve grafted and been gritty throughout this series.”
Although his playing time has been limited to appearances as a substitute fielder, Hamza has kept himself busy within the squad, asking questions and listening to his teammates throughout what he described as a “crazy” few weeks since his call-up.
“I’ve tucked myself under the wings of a few guys, just leaching as much information as I can about what it takes to perform at this level.”
Hamza, 23, completed his schooling at Rondebosch Boys High – also the alma mater of Gary Kirsten, HD Ackerman and Jonathan Trott.
He has been on the selectors’ radar for a couple of seasons, before really grabbing their attention last summer when he scored 828 runs in the Sunfoil Series for the Cape Cobras at an average of 69, making three hundreds and four half-centuries.
He went to India with the SA A side last winter and made a pair of fifties against India A, and while his form this season for the Cobras hasn’t been as hot as the previous one, he remains confident he’ll deliver when called upon later this week.
“I haven’t started well in the franchise competition, but I don’t feel out of form. I feel like I’m batting well. The runs and performances haven’t shown it, but it’s not how I feel at the moment.”
Hamza certainly looked in good touch at training on Wednesday during a centre net session in which he faced Duanne Olivier, Kagiso Rabada and Wiaan Mulder, who is making his way back to full fitness after injury.
Du Plessis’ absence, punishment for the Proteas’ slow over-rate during the Newlands Test, leaves some question marks over the home side’s batting order, while in addition, there are still concerns over the fitness of Aiden Markram.
The opener is nursing a badly bruised thigh, and will undergo a fitness test on Thursday morning. If he isn’t fit, Pieter Malan from the Cape Cobras will make his debut on Friday as well.
Then the Proteas brains-trust also have to think about where Hamza will slot in.
A very chilled Zubayr Hamza, for now. pic.twitter.com/EmHD1sdRTV— stuart hess (@shockerhess) January 9, 2019
He admitted his preference for playing in the top-order, having spent most of his career at No 3, but with Hashim Amla seemingly fit, it looks like Hamza will have to make his debut in the middle-order.
Whether that is at No 5 – Du Plessis’s spot – or No 6 depends on whether the side’s leadership group feel he needs extra protection, and thus allow the in-form Bavuma to move up one spot.
* Dean Elgar will captain the Proteas in the last Test owing to Du Plessis’ suspension.
It is the second time the left-handed opener will lead the team, having first done so at Lord’s in 2017, when Du Plessis was absent due to the birth of his daughter.@shockerhess