Massive pressure on Proteas’ middle order

2014-02-08 00:00

ON Wednesday next week we will get the first glimpse of just how ready the Proteas are to deal with an Australian team that have arrived in South Africa with its wheels pumped and most of its other parts in good working order. Fresh from victories over England in all forms of the game, the Aussies are in better shape than most observers would have forecast as little as four months ago.

Michael Clarke’s team are now ranked second in the Test match table with its eyes fixed on returning to the number one spot as soon as possible. The Aussie players will know that defeat to South Africa will probably delay the realisation of that ambition past the retirement dates of some of their older team-mates. This is not a post Ashes jaunt for these Aussies. This is serious.

The South Africans will be confronted with an in their faces intensity that will be unlike anything many of them have experienced before. There is a world of difference between an Australian team that have just bounced off the bottom and one that spent half a dozen years trying to kid the world that the glory days were not yet over.

Even so, those latter day teams from Down Under were good enough to leave South Africa with one series victory and one drawn series against Graeme Smith and his team. In fact, the Aussies have not lost a series in this country since the return from isolation despite the presence in the Protea’s team of the great Jacques Kallis for all but the first of those series, which was drawn.

That is the challenge now facing South Africa — to do what could not be done even with Kallis. If the Proteas are to succeed this time, several players will have to show that their best performances Down Under can be repeated here at home in front of their expectant supporters. Most notably these would be the three batsmen at the heart of the Proteas’ middle order, the three D’s — Du Plessis, De Villiers and Duminy.

It is these three middle order batsmen who need to ensure that Kallis will not be missed. They have all played match winning innings against Australian teams in the past but not at home. Of the three, JP Duminy has the most to prove. There is a growing suspicion that for all his obvious talent he has yet to deliver under pressure apart from his blockbuster 166 that propelled him to an hitherto unfulfilled stardom.

Duminy is certain to be in the cross hairs of the Australian fast bowlers. At thirty years of age, JP is not quite running out of time but nor is he in the first flush of uninhibited youth. This is the series that might define him as a cricketer one way or another. He had a glorious chance to take his team to an extraordinary victory against India at the Wanderers but fluffed his lines.

The Aussies will ask tough questions of him. He will have to show that he is no longer fallible either against bouncers or persistent good length bowling just outside his off stump. If he gets past the quicks, JP must then deal with off break bowling of the kind that has given him trouble in the past and which Nathan Lyons is starting to perfect. In short, he must eliminate the impression that when it comes to dismissing him, the bowlers are spoilt for choice.

Faf du Plessis had a marvellous start to his Test career against the Aussies and had another brilliant innings against the Indians but Clarke’s bowlers will know now that he is mainly a leg sided player. As such he can be restricted in his run scoring. This inevitably leads to the sort of pressure that causes a dismissal if his innings becomes stuck. As with Duminy, this will be an important series for Faf.

AB is clearly our most dominating batsmen and the one South African capable of quickly taking a game away from the Aussies. With Kallis gone, AB will have to take care that he does not give his wicket away in the careless manner to which he has often been prone. For a start we do not want to lose any of our top batsmen to silly run outs of the kind that have plagued our batting for several seasons.

We know what to expect from the rest of our batsmen. Amla’s footwork has been somewhat lazy in recent months. He has been bowled too often for the class player that he is but one hopes that the stimulus of playing against the Aussies will sharpen him to his best. Smith has had some issues against Mitchell Johnson but he remains a formidable and consistent opponent whatever the nature of the opposition.

Even without Kallis, most critics would fancy the Proteas to score enough runs against this Australian bowling attack to give themselves a couple of chances of bowling the Aussies out twice. I cannot see the South Africans crumbling in the manner that gifted the Aussies such an easy time in the recent Ashes series unless the three Ds fail with the bat.

Nor can I see the South Africans letting the Aussies off the hook, as England did, if we get deep into their batting in the first innings of any Test match. The danger will come next week if someone like David Warner gets away and blasts a big score before the South Africans realise they are in a different sort of Test match.

The Proteas have been guilty of slow beginnings in a number of recent series. Thus far there has been enough talent in good form to overcome such early indifference but against these rampant bug-eyed Australians nothing other than a full throttled start will do. The aim should be to puncture the confidence of Clarke’s men early on and keep them under unrelenting pressure until the job is done.

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