Cape Town – South Africa take one of their most skittish-looking batting line-ups, possibly of all time in the format, into the three-match ODI series against Australia which begins in Perth on Sunday (05:20 SA time).
It was beginning to look a little threadbare as a collective even in the closing stages of AB de Villiers’ monumental, 9 577-run career, but the recessionary trend has arguably only taken a deeper hold subsequently.
There is, of course, one consolatory thought in all this if you are Proteas-inclined: the Aussies’ batting is no great shakes these days, either, and especially with Steve Smith and David Warner smack in the midst of year-long international bans.
The relatively quickfire series may very well be decided, then, by which team bats the least badly, bearing in mind that both nations ought to exhibit frisky enough attacks.
But the tourists, thinking in terms of their own bigger picture, nevertheless need to do everything they can over the next three bilateral series – this one, then Pakistan and Sri Lanka at home – to quell mounting fears that batting (both general quality and questionable level of depth in the order) will potentially be their major bugbear at the 2019 World Cup in England.
The Proteas’ immediate situation in the critical department is done no favours at all by the absence Down Under of another couple of massively experienced individuals who can be expected to take their places at CWC 2019: Hashim Amla and JP Duminy.
Between them, they boast another 12,712 runs in the 50-overs landscape and that leaves a serious dearth of proven customers at the crease for the touring party, now showing an overload of relatively fringe players and, just as worryingly, notably few batsmen in the whole arsenal who can be described as tangibly in form right now.
Just for example, captain and now most-capped ODI batsman Faf du Plessis has smouldered rather more than he has genuinely fired in recent weeks and months, and yet he will quite likely be required to be a particularly important anchoring factor during the three contests.
Over the course of his last dozen innings in competitive cricket – a period which does, in mitigation, include some time out through injury - Du Plessis has rarely had an out-and-out failure, almost always reaching double figures.
But he has also posted only one half-century (and that 71 was in a slightly less useful, one-day warm-up against a Sri Lankan Board XI in Colombo) and a little irksomely fallen in the thirties or forties five times.
Considerably heavier weight of scoring from his blade, something he is indisputably well capable of, will be richly appreciated by all in the touring camp during the next week or so.
Du Plessis boasts nine centuries in ODIs, with a personal best of a swollen 185 against Sri Lanka at Newlands in early 2017, although he is yet to come off in a major way – albeit only from five prior cracks – in Australia itself, where he averages 19 and with a top score of 31.
Quinton de Kock, who should creep to within two caps of 100 if he plays all three ODIs in Australia, is another now-seasoned figure on whose shoulders will rest plenty of responsibility for significant (not to mention fast) runs in these bilateral tussles.
He was among three Proteas frontline batsmen to register inconvenient ducks in the lone warm-up fixture in Canberra (a defeat to a Prime Minister’s XI that once again showed up the jitters in the department), though he is likely to be less fazed by that than either of Reeza Hendricks and Farhaan Behardien, who are not well rooted in the national side and fighting desperately for CWC berths.
Another shaft of light is that gifted young Aiden Markram, after a period in which he has seen both the kindest and meanest moods of Mother Cricket, may be on the brink of beefing up his consistency levels.
He top-scored for the Proteas in Canberra with 47, and had also done most of the hard yards in the three ODIs against Zimbabwe on less than ideal surfaces a little earlier, registering knocks of 42, 35 and 27 that at least helped arrest a penchant for more ducks than he might like.
In Markram’s favour, too, is some agreeable history against Australia in the premier, Test format: some of the home side he comes up against shortly will have rueful memories of his 143 at Kingsmead and 152 at the Wanderers in the SA-won series that, primarily for other reasons, hugely changed the complexion and character of Aussie cricket …
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