“These aren’t issues that can be ironed out in a day but the Proteas will want to keep their bench full to test their options in 2019 where tough tours await them”
When South Africa take the field for the final Test match of the home series against Pakistan, a dead rubber, they will most likely not have three prominent names in their batting line-up. The skipper who battled his way to a rip-roaring hundred in the New Year’s Test at Newlands is suspended for over-rate issues after the hosts fielded four quick bowlers while Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla are both nursing injuries.
Markram and Amla could be fit for Johannesburg and if one of them at least is, he is likely to lead the Proteas in the final Test, but they await fitness tests to confirm availability. Dean Elgar is the other captaincy option having stood for du Plessis against England in 2017 but it isn’t captaincy that will worry South Africa.
Du Plessis talked about lack of ruthlessness as a factor that affected them in dead rubbers and if signs are right, South Africa aren’t prepared to concede the last Test just because they have won the series. There was listlessness in their approach against India early last year and du Plessis had said South Africa wants to avoid those but the fact is, behind their series win lies immense batting issues that had remained hidden behind the gigantic frame of AB de Villiers for long.
Now that de Villiers has retired and Amla is no longer the force he once was, South Africa have batting issues to sort out, primarily in the middle-order although Aiden Markram is also a subject of debate – not regarding selection – for his woes against spinners.
The backup batsman in the squad is the talented Zubayr Hamza who is likely to come in for du Plessis for the next Test. Uncapped and just 23, Hamza has hogged headlines in first-class competitions in South Africa and is a talented batsman South Africa want to test out before bigger Test tours to the sub-continent.
What stands out with Hamza is his terrific temperament which was on full display in the recent tour of India with the South Africa A team. He had made 823 runs in the domestic competition at an average of 69 prior to that but in India he stood out for the manner in which he handled the spinners. Hamza trains hard, is a diligent student and a brilliant batsman, one of the best in local circuits now, and has earned his call-up. It is now up to him to grab his chances.
If Hamza is a certain backup option, the rest aren’t altogether convincing. Reeza Hendricks who has been in good form in the limited-overs sides is another option but his negative mindedness with the bat has worked against him in the past. Young Pieter Malan is another option at the top of the order if Markram doesn’t pass the fitness test but Theunis de Buryn is expected to slot up, a promotion which hasn’t worked well in the past and is unnecessary given how well he is playing in the middle-order.
Rassie van der Dussen and Heinrich Klaasen are also in the queue but what South Africa need is a match-winner in the middle-order in the mould of Amla, de Villiers or du Plessis. Temba Bavuma has impressed in bits and pieces but the inability to carry on making his starts count has cost Bavuma. He will be an integral part of the side but he needs a fulcrum around whom he can bat.
It is that replacement that South Africa eagerly seek before important tours including one to the den in India. Khaya Zondo is another in the Bavuma mould but South Africa don’t seem as keen on him and his chances of making the side appear slim particularly with Hamza available. Janneman Malan is the other big name in the circuit. A brilliant opener and a talented batsman, Janneman is the brother of Pieter Malan who is also in with a chance. The youngster though is the more impressive batsman but the duo has been outrageous for the Cape Cobras this season making 629 (Pieter) and 564 (Janneman) runs at averages of 52.41 and 51.27.
It will take a while for the changes to effect but what’s certain at least for the now is Hamza getting a much-awaited chance. The middle-order hasn’t clicked of late and except Faf du Plessis ton, the returns have been slim from Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and the skipper himself. Bavuma has been making the pretty half-centuries while de Bruyn has been inconsistent. Markram’s woes against spin put him in a fix too. These aren’t issues that can be ironed out in a day but the Proteas will want to keep their bench full to test their options in 2019 where tough tours await them.