Negotiating the new moving ball in Test cricket is arguably one of the toughest jobs in cricket. In most of the conditions, the new ball does move a lot, further making batting difficult. Not all the teams are blessed with an impactful and consistent opening pair. Teams like England and South Africa have been unable to find a reliable opening pair for a while now. And this weakness has hurt them on numerous occasions in the recent times.
The opening pair plays an important role in the batting line-up in any format. They not only provide a solid start at the top, but also wear out the new ball. Their success at the top injects confidence in the rest of the batting line-up. In Test cricket, their success helps to not expose the middle-order too early. To succeed, it demands immense temperament and solid technique.
With South Africa scheduled to lock horns with Bangladesh in the two-match Test series starting Thursday, the anticipation for the same is on a high. Bangladesh have been evolving with every game and have done well against the big guns, but South Africa will be a different challenge altogether. Bangladesh does have a potent bowling attack to start with. South Africa’s opening woes should infuse some confidence in Bangladeshi bowlers going into the series.
South African openers have averaged 11.92 in their last 14 Test innings, which speaks of their lack of effectiveness at the top. In last seven Test series, South Africa have tried as many as seven batsmen at the top. Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Stephen Cook, Theunis de Bruyn, Stiaan van Zyl, Vernon Philander and Temba Bavuma have opened the batting for South Africa in the recent times. While Philander opened on solitary occasions, Bavuma started the proceedings in the final Test against India at Delhi.
Elgar has cemented his spot as an opener with some consistent performances but has not found a reliable partner at the other end. In the series against England, Kuhn opened the batting alongside Elgar, but the combination failed for South Africa. The highest stand the duo could manage was of 21 in 8 innings. South Africa lost the series 3-1 with some issues to be addressed. Stephen Cook looked promising but faded away soon and lost his place to Kuhn in the final Test against New Zealand.
South Africa have good options to consider for the opening slot. Kuhn made it to the side riding on some prolific run in the domestic circuit but failed to replicate his magic at international level. South Africa have roped in Aiden Markram and Theunis de Bruyn in the squad for the first Test. De Bruyn can bat in the top-order and is rated very highly in the domestic arena. He has opened against New Zealand at Hamilton and batted in the middle-order in two games against England, but very unlikely to open against Bangladesh.
Opening batsman Aiden Markram is expected to make his Test debut against Bangladesh at Potchefstroom. Markram has had a productive time in the Momentum One-Day Cup, scoring 508 runs in nine innings. He also got runs in heap in the Sunfoil series, where he averaged 51.36 and 565 runs under his belt. South Africa will hope Markram to fire at the top and provide a solid solution to their opening woes. It will be interesting to see how Markram embraces Test cricket as Bangladesh have a good bowling attack and the batsman will certainly be under pressure.
For Bangladesh, this tour is certainly a huge test. They have proved their worth in this format and has been one of the most exciting teams in international cricket. Conditions in South Africa will certainly favour seam bowling and their bowlers will definitely be looking to test South Africa’s Achilles heel.
Bangladesh’s pace battery hails of Mustafizur Rahman, Shafiul Islam, Rubel Hossain and Taskin Ahmed. They inspire confidence and are well capable of creating problems for the batsmen. An early wicket is like gold in any format, especially Test cricket. Bangladesh will be well aware of South Africa’s opening problems and will look to exploit it with the new ball. Someone like Shafiul Islam or Taskin Ahmed might get some purchase out of the wicket at menacing speed and look to scalp an early wicket. Bangladeshi spinners have also done well with the new ball and chipped wicket regularly, it will be interesting to see it this happens in South Africa as well. Bangladesh even need to pay equal attention to slip catching and back their bowlers.
Dean Elgar has done well at one end, but failure from another end may soon start affecting his performance. Bangladesh need to do a lot of other things dead right in order to put up a fight, but they will certainly give themselves a solid push if they manage to exploit South Africa’s weakness. Markram has a golden opportunity of making an impact and South Africa still have time to find a long-term solution. South Africa has been a difficult place to confront the new ball. With the home advantage being with South Africa this is also an ideal platform for them to let the top-order settle and gain momentum. South Africa start as favourites, but Bangladesh are well capable of creating an upset and for the start, they can try and attack South Africa’s opening pair.