Puzzling Proteas need to go back to top order basics

JP Duminy (Gallo)
JP Duminy (Gallo)

Cape Town - It was always going to be difficult for the Proteas to take any real learnings out of this Zimbabwe series given the gulf in quality between the sides. 

How much, for example, could one read into a batsman scoring a century or a bowler taking a fifer against a side that couldn't secure qualification to next year's Cricket World Cup? 

With Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and David Miller all out of the series for different reasons, this has been an opportunity for some of the fringe players to get a run in the top and middle order. 

The results have been disappointing. 

It is not so much the returns run-wise, but rather the way that the batsmen are getting out. 

The wickets in both Kimberley and Bloemfontein have made life difficult, but that is precisely why more care needed to be shown by the top order at both venues. 

Instead, there has been a fundamental lack of application at the crease and an inability to show any patience. 

Coach Ottis Gibson, since he took the job a little over a year ago, has wanted to play positive cricket. 

Regardless of the format, Gibson has asked his batsmen to "take the game forward", and the way to do that is to score runs. 

It has formed part of the blueprint that the Proteas are trying to hone before next year's World Cup. They want to take the game on and be proactive rather than reactive. It is, by all accounts, a philosophy that should be backed. 

There needs to be a balance, however. 

Different situations will require different approaches, and the Proteas under Gibson and batting coach Dale Benkenstein need to be both intelligent enough and flexible enough to adapt. 

While the overall philosophy can and should be one of positivity, there needs to be an understanding that sometimes a more cautious approach is what is needed. 

On surfaces like the last two, the batsmen needed to be more careful.

With all respect to Zimbabwe's bowling attack, a bad ball is always around the corner. That should have been the mindset at 7/1, 9/2, 26/3, 49/4, 85/5 and 92/6 on Wednesday. 

Throughout that entire collapse, nobody was able to consolidate. And while the wicket played its part, often it was simply down to poor shot selection and an over-eagerness to be aggressive. 

While it is sometimes hard to lay the blame at the feet of a coach at this level, Benkenstein must shoulder some of the blame here.

It is his job to get the players into a head space where they can execute whatever the gameplan is, and that has not been happening. 

Even in Sri Lanka, the Proteas got it wrong. 

In the first Test in Galle, skipper Du Plessis acknowledged after a 278-run defeat that the Proteas got their gameplan wrong against the spinners. In that match, the South Africans had looked to attack, and it backfired. 

There needs to be a balance, and even in the fast-paced age of modern cricket, the best attacking is always done from a solid foundation. 

The good news is that there is a lot of experience missing, and once De Kock, Amla and Du Plessis return there will be significantly more stability. 

Throw in JP Duminy and the Proteas have four quality and experienced players in their top order. 

Miller, Aiden Markram, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Christiaan Jonker and Khaya Zondo are the guys fighting for the other top order slots, it seems, and there is cause for concern if you're a Proteas fan. 

The ability is there, but the approach right now must be questioned. 

It's still 50-over cricket, and there will always be a place for occupying the crease and sensible batting.  

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