Unsteady Proteas on a quest for balance

Faf du Plessis (Gallo)
Faf du Plessis (Gallo)

Cape Town - When captain Faf du Plessis was asked on Thursday if he was any closer to understanding the perfect balance in the Test side after a failed tour to England, his answer was a long-winded three minutes and 45 seconds. 

Listening to the skipper run through the list of problems experienced in their 3-1 series defeat did not paint a picture of a side that is on solid ground. 

Over the course of four Tests, the Proteas used three different No 4s while they also seemed unable to settle on whether it was best to play seven specialist batsmen or six and one genuine allrounder. 

There were a lot of factors out of their control, but the feeling of uncertainty surrounding this squad at the moment is unmissable. 

JP Duminy started as the first-choice No 4, but lasted just one Test before he was ditched, possibly for the last time. 

Then it was Quinton de Kock's turn to bat there, but after two Tests it was decided that he was, in fact, better suited to a role back down the order. 

Temba Bavuma was next up for the fourth Test, and Du Plessis is now suggesting that he could be a long-term possibility for South Africa at No 4. 

Du Plessis himself was never an option at No 4 because outgoing coach Russell Domingo prefers him at No 5, to handle pressure situations when there is a collapse at the top of the order. 

The batting was undoubtedly the biggest issue of the tour from a South African perspective, and Du Plessis tried to explain the constant shuffling around in the middle order. 

"When we went there we understood there was a possibility that we might have to change our team," he said.

"There was a lot of pressure on JP for quite some time. We felt that England was going to be his last opportunity and it was important how well he started the series.

"The plan would have been for JP to play the whole series but when he didn't score runs we felt it was time to look at someone else."

With Duminy out, the Proteas were given an opportunity to move De Kock up the order and bring in a genuine all-rounder at No 7. 

Chris Morris was called up, and after an impressive display in the second Test where he picked up match figures of 5/45 and chipped in with the bat, it looked like South Africa were on their way to settling on a combination. 

But Morris struggled in the third Test while Vernon Philander spent most of the match in hospital, and De Kock also battled at No 4, and all of a sudden the Proteas seemed in disarray again.

"In the third game when Vern was sick the responsibility fell on Chris to become our third seamer," Du Plessis continued.

"He would be the first guy to say that for three seamers, he's probably not there yet from a consistency point of view. He needs to be the fourth seamer where he can be aggressive and your x-factor player."

Du Plessis then elaborated on De Kock moving up and down the order.

"The Quinny selection for me was one where we needed to have someone in that middle order who could put a bit of pressure on England, especially in those conditions," he said.

"Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won't and the thing that we learnt about Quinton is that your No 4 should be able to change his game at times in Test cricket.

"You're not always going to be able to come in and play shots and be positive ... at times you're going to have to absorb a little bit. Quinton will be at his best suited when he doesn't have to play the way the team needs him to play but more the way that Quinton wants to play.

"He said he wanted to bat No 4 with that game (2nd Test) but I think if he's really honest with himself he would prefer coming in later with less pressure on where he can just play his game."

So the short answer was probably: 'Yes, the Proteas are a bit closer to understanding the balance of this side'. 

Bavuma looks set for an extended run at No 4, De Kock will stay down the order and Morris will only ever play if there are three other fit seamers. 

Whatever the Proteas do in a two-match series against Bangladesh over September and October, it is likely to be enough to return back to winning ways. 

But with India and Australia around the corner, they will want to know exactly what their best line-up is to avoid needing to figure it out mid-series. 

Follow Sport24 journalist @LloydBurnard on Twitter...

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