Cape Town – Fill my boots against Zimbabwe.
That won’t be far off the key desire of several South African Test-team batsmen as the season in that particular format finally gets close to full swing shortly.
The once-off Test against our modest neighbours at Port Elizabeth from Boxing Day is important not only because of the four-day format experiment or extra novelty - on our shores, at least - of being under lights at St George’s Park.
It is also a critical opportunity for several Proteas stroke-players to get back into some kind of proper groove ahead of the more extended visits of fellow-superpowers India and then Australia.
Frankly, more batsmen than the SA brains trust would ideally like are just a little undercooked at the crease right now, and much of it has to do with the relatively inconvenient scheduling of the entire Ram Slam T20 Challenge – the format the furthest away in character to Test cricket – immediately before an intense period of the longer-form stuff.
Although weight of runs or otherwise in T20 is hardly an accurate yardstick of form or confidence, it is also a fact that several players expected to line up against the Zimbabweans in the Proteas’ top six or seven haven’t had especially durable vigils at the crease in the past few weeks.
That applies especially to captain and middle-order anchor figure Faf du Plessis, who remains doubtful for the PE Test due to his troublesome back.
If he does – now against expectation, perhaps? – make the cut for the Zimbabwe clash, Du Plessis would not have seen any “middle” action since being carried in ungainly fashion off the field by David Miller during the one-day international against Bangladesh in East London back on October 22; he had retired hurt on 91.
It would amount to more than two months of cobwebs to dust off.
But several fitter colleagues in the likely Test mix have not exactly been prospering despite their franchise availabilities during the T20 Challenge.
Temba Bavuma, for example, has played all 10 of the Cape Cobras’ round-robin matches and managed a lean haul – though this format is admittedly not his traditional forte – of 195 runs (top score 46 against the Knights at Kimberley) at an average of 19.5.
The imminently Test-returning AB de Villiers, by contrast, was performing much more solidly in the competition but he has also been back largely in “rest” mode since December 1 (48 against the Warriors at Benoni), given the Titans’ unusually early confirmation of top spot on the table.
But team-mate Quinton de Kock, the Proteas’ Test wicketkeeper, is more in the Bavuma-type camp for under-delivery of runs … and this in an arena to which he is better suited with his attacking flair up front.
De Kock played six ordinary-season matches for the Titans, notching only 78 runs at a particularly lowly 13.00 with a highest knock of 39.
Less out of nick, perhaps, but short on game-time nevertheless is senior Proteas opener Dean Elgar, a victim of the international player-heavy Titans’ necessary “rotation” policy in the T20 landscape.
The left-hander has played only three times thus far, with prior scores of 34 and 44 before a failure (two) in his most recent appearance on Sunday.
Meanwhile Aiden Markram – yes, another Titan – and Hashim Amla (Cobras) have been getting runs consistently enough in the T20 competition, although Markram’s golden spell has hiccupped just a bit with most recent dismissals for eight and eight again.
De Villiers and Bavuma do get a nice opportunity to anchor themselves to the crease for healthy periods when they turn out for the SA Invitation XI in a three-day warm-up match against the Zimbabweans at Paarl before Christmas (December 20-22).
That is a match where champion fast bowler Dale Steyn also earns a much-needed extended-format gallop ahead of the Test challenges soon afterwards.
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