Pace for Piedt as Proteas seek perfect balance?

Senuran Muthusamy (left) and Faf du Plessis (Getty).
Senuran Muthusamy (left) and Faf du Plessis (Getty).

Cape Town - Despite being comfortably on the losing end, there were certainly encouraging signs for the Proteas in their 203-run defeat to India in the first of three Tests last week. 

Centuries for Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock were the obvious highlights, while there was also an impressive batting debut for the unassuming Senuran Muthusamy, who carded scores of 33* and 49* from the lower order. 

Despite those successes, the negatives outweighed the positives. 

Dane Piedt's off-spin was nowhere near good enough, with his inconsistent length opening him up to sustained assault from the Indian batsmen. 

Keshav Maharaj got stronger as the match progressed, but he was also not accurate enough in the Indian first innings as openers Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal made hay. 

Conditions were obviously testing, but the Proteas bowling unit lacked penetration throughout the contest and India's match total of 825/11 confirms as much. 

There are also concerns over the top order, particularly at No 3 where Theunis de Bruyn looked all at sea in both of his innings. It wasn't so much the fact the De Bruyn failed twice, but more the nature of his dismissals that rang alarm bells. 

Both occassions saw Ravichandran Ashwin draw De Bruyn into false shots that turned ugly in a hurry, and he is now under pressure once more.

Logic should see De Bruyn given another crack. He has been identified as a player with abundant Proteas potential for a long time, and with Hashim Amla having stepped away from the set-up, this is the ideal opportunity to give De Bruyn an extended run in the side. 

Batting personnel aside, Du Plessis and coach Enoch Nkwe have a lot to think about before naming their 11 for Thursday. 

It's all about finding the right balance, and one of the key questions will be whether to drop a spinner for an extra seamer.  

Muthusamy operated as the third spinner in Visakhapatnam, bowling just three overs in India's second innings. 

His role is not clearly defined at this stage, and as one of the commentators on duty in the first Test pointed out, he doesn't bowl enough overs to be considered a specialist bowler and doesn't bat high enough to be a specialist batsman. 

Muthusamy, it seems, is a genuine allrounder in India.

In the early stages of the first Test, it was clear that the seam of Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander was troubling the Indian openers far more than the non-turning spin of Maharaj and Piedt. 

Fast bowling, for a long time now, has been this side's strength and the temptation to include one of Lungi Ngidi or Anrich Nortje for the second Test - despite conditions - will be very real. 

A South African attack with more pace than spin just feels more natural and, crucially, more capable. 

Given the heat and the demands of bowling long spells, Nortje might be given the nod ahead of Ngidi if that is the balance the Proteas look to find. 

The other option for Du Plessis is to bulk up the top order by including Zubayr Hamza as an extra batsman in a move that would see Quinton de Kock drop back down to No 7 and extend the South African line-up. 

In either of those scenarios, though, one of Muthusamy or Piedt will most likely get the chop. 

It would be particularly harsh on Muthusamy, who's composure and resilience was noticeable in the first Test.

With the absence of any left-handers in the Indian top order, the smart money is on Piedt being considered surplus to requirements given how poorly he performed in Visakhapatnam. 

If Piedt was left out, that would place extra pressure on Muthusamy, who bowled a total of 18 overs in the first Test and just 3 in India's second innings. 

But given what we saw from him on debut, it is already clear that the 25-year-old Durbanite can handle the heat. 

Play on Thursday starts at 06:00 (SA time). 

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ...

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