SA batting: Desperate times, desperate measures?

Ottis Gibson (Gallo Images)
Ottis Gibson (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The gulf between South Africa’s bowling capability and their batting shortcomings as a collective only widens.

That was the case all over again at SuperSport Park on Wednesday, despite the deceptive comfort of another easy victory (by 113 runs) in the second one-day international against a Sri Lankan outfit seemingly with even deeper issues at the crease.

If you were a neutral observing the game, and especially one valuing the art of batsmanship, you would hardly have been inclined to feel either side look frontline candidates for World Cup 2019 glory.

The game was marked by a blistering start from the host nation, powered by free-scoring top-order partnerships between first Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks (91 in fewer than 15 overs) and then De Kock and captain Faf du Plessis, all of whom helped tee up what should have been an assault on a final score of around the 330-350 mark.

Instead the Proteas crashed from 176 for three, just beyond the halfway mark, to 251 all out - criminally leaving 29 deliveries unused.

Roughly this sort of pattern has been prevalent across the formats by them this summer, and there appears to be an inexplicable inertia in both recognising and addressing it, frankly.

Had they been playing one of the stronger global powers in the ODI landscape, Du Plessis’s charges might well not have had the luxury of triumphing comfortably despite their pack-of-cards collapse; the ‘Lankans showed a chronic lack of application and nous in pursuing their gettable target even as the Proteas’ famed bowling strength shone through for the umpteenth time.

If it hasn’t become abundantly clear by now that South Africa’s reasonably reliable batting grinds to a halt unacceptably at around No 6 in the 50-overs game, then you have to worry pretty deeply about the thinking of the brains trust at a time when the World Cup is now only three further ODIs away.

They keep cavalierly putting out a jam-packed bowling unit - psst, is it really a helpful development at this late point that rookie Anrich Nortje looks the real deal as another tearaway speed investment? - while doing dubious things like inviting glaringly unproven 21-year-old all-rounder Wiaan Mulder to bat as loftily as five ... yes, five!

Du Plessis did admit afterwards that Mulder’s stationing had everything to do with trial reasons, the big jamboree very much in mind, but it nevertheless seemed indicative of the bizarrely skewed look (bowler-heavy, batsman-light) to both the SA team and its broader squad.

There are some brilliant individuals in the Proteas’ front five, particularly when all likeliest candidates are fit and available, something underlined in the latest game as De Kock caressed his way to the sort of imperious 94 at Centurion that almost looked as if he might have got the runs right-handed.

But with no AB de Villiers these days and a mounting cloud of doubt around ageing Hashim Amla, there are also some areas of uncertainty in the specialist batting arsenal: and it is compounded by the cruel reality that an awful lot of the Proteas’ best bowlers offer desperately little, especially in challenging situations, at their secondary trade.

I wouldn’t get your hopes too high, because head coach Ottis Gibson and the selectors seem hell-bent on maximising the Proteas’ strength with the ball and blithely pretending all is well in the other department while it repeatedly wobbles and shudders instead. But to many sage onlookers, something nearer a profound reversal of policy appears the best medicine if South Africa are to be surprise elements at the World Cup.

Indeed, the extreme view might be that if the batting is to be rescued - turned into an altogether more formidable and just as vitally deeper unit - the only option may be to restrict the specialist bowling to four and make use of batsmen with part-time bowling credentials for the extra quota of 10 overs.

Dangerous? You bet.

Yet it suddenly really needs to form at least part of structural discussions for the team at CWC 2019.

So let’s just say that when the Cape Cobras play the Lions in the Momentum One-Day Cup at the Wanderers on Thursday and then the Titans tackle the Warriors at Benoni a day later, any off-spinning overs sent down by JP Duminy for the Cobras and Aiden Markram for the Titans may be scrutinised with special interest and urgency.

Or they should be ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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