South Africa’s woeful tour of England continued as they lost by a whopping 211 runs in the first Test at Lord’s. Quite contrary to their fates in the country in the past few years, South Africa have endured a rather rough tour. Their captain was unavailable as he was on paternity leave and the stand-in skipper seemed lost for ideas after his England counterpart dug into the Proteas attack.
Much has been written about how South Africa’s failures stem from the absence of two stalwarts in the line-up, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. That combined with Faf du Plessis’ absence could have contributed to South Africa’s dismal show at Lord’s. But it is difficult to believe that the three would have made a huge difference to the team. This same South African side beat Australia in Australia and New Zealand in New Zealand without the services of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. What they did have was Faf du Plessis.
But then what went wrong for them here? Are England way ahead of Australia and New Zealand in Test cricket at the moment? Did the South Africans look overawed after their Champions Trophy debacle? Did the absence of the charismatic leader affect their game in Lord’s? Here we analyse why South Africa struggled miserably at Lord’s in a format they usually excel in.
For starters, they did miss Faf du Plessis. Such has been his roaring presence at the helm of the team that there were comparisons to Steve Waugh being made in his very first series as captain. They missed him when Philander pleaded with Dean Elgar for a review against Stuart Broad. They missed him when South Africa needed a blockathon in the second innings. They missed him when Kagiso Rabada looked lost and needed a pep talk to rejuvenate himself. They needed him to inspire them, to ignite their beliefs and to conjure their comeback. That their best session in the game came when du Plessis was back at Lord’s speaks volumes about the kind of influence he has on his players.
Elgar seemed pretty happy to hand back over the captaincy to du Plessis for the second Test, hardly surprising given the way he was criticised in the past few days. “You can take it back!“, he remarked in the press conference indicating to Faf du Plessis. While there is no doubt that du Plessis’ presence would have helped South Africa, their problems do not end there.
The inclusion of JP Duminy despite his unsatisfying results in recent months is baffling. A batsman with over a decade of experience in International Cricket has been a walking wicket of late and his career average does not inspire the kind of confidence that a no.4 batsman ideally should. Good knocks from Duminy have been few and far between and any contribution from him has become a lottery in the past few years.
The problem of dropping Duminy isn’t that easy for the Proteas though. They have a transformation policy to adhere to and Duminy being coloured makes up the numbers. Dropping him for a white player will affect those calculations (4 coloured players and 2 black players). But giving him a longer rope is suicidal for South Africa from a purely cricketing point of view.
With Temba Bavuma showing evidence of his undoubted talent in this series, he should be thrust with more responsibility in the batting line-up and the time has come for the Proteas to drop Duminy and make Bavuma a constant at no.5 behind Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla.
If you notice, I mentioned Faf du Plessis ahead of Hashim Amla when talking about the batting order. This is because the bearded warrior has been out of sorts of late with the moving ball and bouncers troubling him. du Plessis, on the other hand, has played at no.3 before and had looked sound and secure at that position before the management bizarrely moved him below Amla in the batting order.
This move has barely been discussed in cricketing circles but has had a profoundly bad influence on the batting line-up. With Elgar’s partner rarely stepping up in recent months, Amla has been exposed early further exposing his weakness against a brand new red cherry. Faf du Plessis should move up above him in the batting order. Not only is he more sure-footed at the crease but also has impeccable judgement outside the off-stump.
The skipper also plays the dogged defence with such confidence and rarely unleashes his drives before he is set at the crease, a trait becoming a proper no.3 batsman. On the other hand, Amla tends to be flashy outside the off-stump which has caused his downfall quite a lot in recent months.
With Kagiso Rabada suspended for the second Test, South Africa need to rely on either Chirs Morris or Duanne Olivier, both of whom are white and once again this would violate transformation policy rules. But they might have little choice in this regard as Andile Phehlukwayo’s selection could create a huge uproar akin to the one after the 2015 World Cup semi-final fiasco involving Kyle Abbott and Vernon Philander.
All this may still not be enough for South Africa to overcome their flaws.
They lacked hunger with the bat, looked sharp with the ball in just one session and their fielding faltered when it really mattered. The extras conceded almost always hurt them with Stokes and Root escaping off no-balls. However, it is the deep-rooted problems which are slowly emerging that hindered them at Lord’s. Addressing these would go a long way in helping them revive for the second Test but a depleted bowling attack does not quite inspire confidence. That said, du Plessis works wonders with his men and South Africa could still just put in a fightback in the series.