Cape Town - Unless fortunes change quickly and dramatically for some in the remaining, though shrinking leadup, South Africa’s frontline batsmen are collectively going to take worryingly little form into the demanding Test series against India.
Lengthy vigils … what are those? It’s a question some of the stroke-players may quietly be tempted to ask themselves, now only some two weeks short of the first of three clashes in the ICC World Test Championship at Visakhapatnam.
While early-season Test series inevitably contain certain, unavoidable pitfalls given the likelihood of relative dormancy for some players over a period of months, the situation at present is further imperilled by the almost universally low returns from SA batsmen trying to banish the cobwebs in the match environment.
As things stand, absolutely nobody in the Proteas arsenal is likely to be able to boast of hitting the ground running against the Indians, and competitive fixtures are fast drying up in the quest to rectify matters.
Some of the Test squad will see service in the now only two-match Twenty20 series against India - game one was washed out without a ball being bowled on Sunday - and a couple of others are involved in the second unofficial four-day Test for SA ‘A’ against their Indian counterparts, which began on Tuesday, albeit with the tourists in the field.
But once those are out of the way, all that remains is one of those often unsatisfactorily low-key three-day matches preceding a Test: after not appearing on the initial tour roster, the Proteas are now down to play an Indian Board President’s XI at Vizianagaram from September 26-28, so a little bit of a silver lining.
It is only some 50km from the site of the first Test, so they will hoping conditions roughly mirror what they face soon afterwards in Visakhapatnam.
Whether in the earlier portion of the SA ‘A’ tour (so far an ominously unproductive experience) or in engagements elsewhere in the world, the main Proteas batsmen for the Test series aren’t exactly filling their boots.
Here, as evidence, is a summary of the current fortunes of the likely main seven batsmen to be involved in the Indian Tests:
Faf du Plessis
Playing a once-off, four-day County Championship match for Kent against Yorkshire at Headingley didn’t begin auspiciously for the national captain on Monday: he was promptly castled by former Proteas colleague and paceman Duanne Olivier for a four-ball duck in the first innings.
Preceding it, he’s only played a handful of T20 matches since SA’s failed 2019 World Cup: scores of 28, 21 and 55 for Royals in the “Global T20 Canada” and 60 and 32 for Kent in the UK’s domestic Vitality Blast T20.
A slower burner for several weeks in his maiden exposure to the four-day county scene for Northamptonshire earlier this northern-hemisphere season, Bavuma was just picking up a head of steam in early July – centuries in successive matches – when his shortish-term deal there a little inconveniently ended.
Since then, he’s only played in the unsuccessful SA ‘A’ limited-overs cause against Indian counterparts, with ho-hum scores of 8, 40, 27, 28 not out and six.
Theunis de Bruyn
The nine-Test right-hander has had a whole winter off; his last competitive innings at time of writing had been 45 not out for the Titans against his former team the Knights in a T20 Challenge fixture at Centurion back on April 26.
But he has been included in the SA ‘A’ team for the second unofficial Test in Mysore which started on Tuesday … and must be hoping for at least one meaty vigil.
Quinton de Kock
The attacking wicketkeeper/batsman has also been largely idle for a long time: his last significant match was the Proteas’ World Cup closing game against Australia at Old Trafford on July 6, when he made a half-century.
Due to be SA skipper in the T20s against India, he had to kick his heels in Sunday’s abandonment in Dharamsala, and will want to get crease time in the last two.
The one thing in the tough opener’s favour, with the looming Tests in mind, is that he has had a first-class-heavy UK summer, playing 10 County Championship matches for Surrey.
But it came to an end for him a few days ago against Hampshire at Southampton, with scores of just 11 and 1.
His whole campaign has been unusually lean, really: 555 runs at 29.21, with one century back at the start of the season.
No county stint for Markram in 2019: his last match before the opening SA ‘A’ unofficial Test in Thiruvananthapuram had been at the World Cup.
He is leading the cause again in game two, though chose to bowl first after winning the toss on Tuesday, and had faced an undistinguished total of 17 balls in game one, scoring 0 and 4.
Still sporting just the one Test cap from last summer, the 24-year-old from the Cape Cobras has had well over five months out of the first-class game in the winter.
He did manage one fairly resilient turn at the crease (81 balls) in making 44 in the second innings of the surrendered first “Test” against India ‘A’, although only 13 ahead of it … and he isn’t playing in the second clash.
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