A capricious game

2012-12-01 00:00

Nowhere was this more vividly demonstrated than in the contrasting fortunes of Jacques Rudolph and Faf du Plessis in the Adelaide Test match. Following the injury to JP Duminy, Rudolph had a clear opportunity to cement his place in the team after a series of ordinary performances which had done nothing to quell the feeling that neither his technique nor his temperament is quite up to the demands of Test cricket.

Since his recall to the national team, Rudolph has played 10 matches and made a number of reasonable contributions with the bat, but nothing that has dismissed the notion that the opposition were not unhappy to see him walk to the crease.

His match saving 100 seven years ago at the Waca against a full Australian attack including Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath was better in many respects than this week`s heroics from Faf du Plessis, but that innings now seems to have been a wonderful one-off rather than the first mark of a young batsman who would kick on to greater things.

Frustrated at his subsequent inability to secure a place in the Proteas, Rudolph threw his lot in with Yorkshire on a Kolpak contract for four years from 2007.

After a most successful time playing county cricket, he returned to South Africa when a couple of places opened up in the batting order of the Proteas. On the back of a mountain of runs in provincial cricket he was given a chance as an opening batsman in preference to Alviro Petersen.

Sadly, however, the weaknesses in his technique that had been apparent earlier in his career had not been repaired. His time in England had done nothing to cure the awkward grip that makes playing with a straight bat seem so unnatural to him. Almost straight away it was also clear that the mental gremlins that plagued his earlier stint in Test cricket had not disappeared.

He has been guilty of a succession of soft and careless dismissals in crucial situations and there is little doubt in the minds of many critics that Duminy has moved ahead of him in the picking order.

So too, after Adelaide and now Perth, has Faf du Plessis. For poor Jacques there may be no further chances after Cowan picked up an astonishing catch at short-leg in Adelaide to produce the kind of freakish dismissal that has probably ended the career of a batsman who is out of form and luck. Faf on the other hand made a terrible blunder when he left a straight ball from Michael Clarke. He survived a perilously close LBW decision which he successfully reviewed when he was given out and his career is now assured for the long haul.

Faf has an impressive demeanour at the crease. He is calm and unhurried. His technique is a little bottom-handed, but unlike Rudolph he manages to play with a straight bat in both attack and defence. He is a brilliant fielder and when AB gives up the gloves, the two of them will add some much needed class to what is a pedestrian fielding side. Rudolph’s defiant innings in 2005 proved to be something of a false start for him, but I think du Plessis will grab his chance to spend a long time in the national team and could well go on to captain it.

It is sad for Rudolph that he has not been able to make more of his chances this last year. He is a thoroughly decent man and no doubt has given his all to the team, but he has never quite been able to play the one substantial innings that would have made him feel more comfortable in Smith’s team. It is ironic that he has been replaced by Dean Elgar whose crabby, ungainly manner of batting and poor footwork makes it likely that he will find Test match cricket hard going.

It is worth remembering that, during their years together in the Affies School first XI, Du Plessis was actually a more prolific batsman than AB de Villiers. Perhaps the presence in the team of his schoolmate will inspire AB to rekindle the kind of scores that he had begun to take for granted. I am afraid that will not happen until batting is his primary function in the team and he understands that he needs to work on his footwork which has become sloppy and indecisive.

So both teams arrived at the Waca for the deciding Test match in varying states of undress. With their depth in fast bowling the Aussies have wisely freshened up their attack whereas the Proteas have finally wised up to Tahir’s limitations. Robin Peterson is a good cricketer who should give Smith more control than the unfortunate Tahir, but the left-armer may not find it that easy bowling into the stiff Fremantle doctor coming in as it does from fine leg.

The Proteas’ attack is firing on one cylinder. Morné Morkel has been good, but Steyn looks to have played far too much cricket this year. Philander has yet to take a wicket and Tahir was dreadful.

On current form the bowlers cannot win a Test match and after the first two sessions of the Perth Test it looks as though they will have a meagre first innings to defend.

For the second Test in a row the Proteas have found themselves all but out of the match before the end of the first day. This team has given the impression that they have never really been up for this series. Much of the batting has been careless with a couple of run-outs and a host of soft dismissals.

From the start the intensity of their English tour has been missing from the heroes of that series.

We know that cricket is an unpredictable game, but I will be very surprised if the Australians let this Test match slip from their grasp.

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