Proteas still struggle for a solid start

2013-10-15 00:00

CAPE TOWN — It is probably too early to start pushing alarm buttons … but some critics may be slightly inclined toward just checking on their proximity for use relatively soon.

Firmly entrenched at No. 1 in the Test rankings, the Proteas’ consistent winning habit is slightly masking a growing little problem in their mostly juggernaut batting armoury: under-delivery of solid opening partnerships.

The respective failures of both captain Graeme Smith (15) and his currently regular partner Alviro Petersen (3) on day one of the first Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi yesterday — they posted a mere six runs together and both fell victim to giant paceman Mohammad Irfan — continued the pattern.

Deep analysis of drawbacks is invariably less likely when the cause as a whole is prospering in a big way. However, at the same time, statistics don’t lie and they reveal that South Africa, with Smith and Petersen the opening pair throughout the period, sport just one century partnership and one of the half-measure kind at the top of the order, over the last 16 Test innings by the country.

In its own way, it is only highlighting the fact that the Proteas’ runs — and there is usually no lack of them collectively when you peruse their totals in the five-day arena — are coming predominantly from the likes of Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers just a little further down the order.

Both Smith and Petersen have been struggling a bit for personal consistency over the course of the past few series, the latter particularly so.

The Lions player banked a century (106) in the New Year Test against New Zealand at Newlands, but since then has found the going leaner, with successive knocks of 21 (NZ, Port Elizabeth), 20 and 27 (Pakistan, Johannesburg), 17 and 1 (Pakistan, Cape Town), 10 (Pakistan, Centurion) and now three against the same opponents in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

He has only reached the half-ton mark in one of his last 11 Test innings and his average after 44 knocks in the arena has dipped to an unremarkable, by modern standards, 37,90.

Stretching back to the third Test against England at Lord’s in August 2012 — after the first wicket had posted a beefy 120 each time in the second encounter at Headingley, Smith partnered first by Petersen and then by Jacques Rudolph in the second dig — South Africa’s average opening stand has been a pretty unconvincing 33 in nine Tests plus the first half of the current one, making for a total of 16 innings.

This is the most recent sequence:

1st Test v Pakistan, Abu Dhabi: 6 (1st inns)

3rd Test v Pakistan, Centurion: 13

2nd Test v Pakistan, Cape Town: 36 & 10

1st Test v Pakistan, Johannesburg: 46 & 82

2nd Test v New Zealand, Port Elizabeth: 29

1st Test v New Zealand, Cape Town: 1

3rd Test v Australia, Perth: 38 & 28

2nd Test v Australia, Adelaide: 138 & 3

1st Test v Australia, Brisbane: 29 & 6

3rd Test v England, Lord’s: 22 & 46.

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