The absence of AB de Villiers is still felt…..

The quest for the fulfilment of an object, aspiration or a goal is usually a process that takes some time. But sometimes it can also be a journey marked by despair if the resources, which are expected to deliver the desired results, continuously fail to impress. Such is the condition of the South African Cricket team which, at the moment, is gapping at the large hole in their batting line-up which has been left by the retirement of their ‘Superman’ i.e. AB de Villiers.

Traditionally the number four spot in the batting order is manned by the best batsman in the line-up. The practice has developed over the years so as to protect the best of the lot from the new ball as it is comparatively easy to start off with a slightly old ball than a prodigiously shining new red cherry. Also, the number four spot holds reverence due to the fact that it acts as a pivot around which the whole batting resources can be marshalled.

De Villers, up to his retirement in April 2018, was the overbearing choice for the role. Though his averages will tell you that he was more successful while batting at number 5 and number 6 with him averaging more than 62 and 52 respectively, it was his colossal presence in the team which served the purpose of maintaining calm and confidence in the team which ultimately reflected in his teammates’ individual performances. This statement gets vindicated by taking a look at the batting average of the South African team since the start of 2018.

Since then, the South African batting average in the longest form of the game is 25.91 runs per wicket. Now if we take into account the presence of ‘Superman’ in the team, it shoots up to 28.8 but if he is taken out of the equation, the batting average for the team spirals down to just 22.98. Clearly, de Villiers had a profound impact on his colleagues batting which ultimately suffers (and is suffering) in his absence.

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Since his retirement, South Africa are currently into their seventh Test and have tried three different batsmen for the number 4 role namely – Theunis de Bruyn (5 innings), Hashim Amla (2 innings) and Temba Bavuma (5 innings). All the three batsmen have failed to impress in the responsibility bestowed upon them as they have all failed even to notch-up a single fifty-plus score with de Bruyn’s 49 in the third Test against Pakistan being the best of the lot.

Taking a bird’s eye view of the travails of the batsmen tried so far, we come to know that the number 4 spot has come into picture in a total of 13 innings since ABD’s retirement and the various batsmen tried at the position have cumulatively mustered a meagre 205 runs at a woeful average of 17.08 – which is way lower than the overall batting average of 23.84 for the team in the period.

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The result of such a gaping hole in the batting department is that more often than not the team finds itself at least three batsmen down without reaching the 50-run mark which leads to the other senior batsmen coming under the pump to bail out the team and this bail-out task is getting, even more, harder when players like Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla are really struggling to get their acts together while others like skipper Faf du Plessis are prone to inconsistencies with the bat. With such meek batting efforts, South Africa are finding themselves at least three down for 50 runs in every third inning (9 times out of 26) that they have played since the beginning of 2018.

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The question of an under-firing number 4 spot wouldn’t have garnered much attention had any of the Amla’s stylish willow or Elgar’s ugly but effective approach, was coming to party but since both of them have been unable to display the consistency expected from their reputations, the batting burden is coming too heavily over the lower middle-order and the tail. The lower middle-order, which is already devoid of a class all-rounder and is very much dependent on the exploits of Philander as an all-rounder, has its own brittle limitations and can only support the efforts of someone like Quinton de Kock in a very limited manner and most certainly can’t pay for the sins of the top-order on every occasion.

The bowling department, which has been the bulwark of South African success in recent times, will have a very stern test in the dustbowls of the Indian subcontinent which is the next assignment of the South African team after this ongoing Sri Lankan Test series but it has to be the batsmen who will need to raise the bar and come true to the responsibility of their roles; otherwise they will find it really hard to avert another ignominy of the scale of their 2015 tour to India when they were whitewashed 3-0, memories of which will still be lingering in the minds of the players and proteas fans alike. 

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