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4 issues facing South Africa

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South_Africa_opening_batting_Test_CricketThrough a combination of bad luck and colossal mistakes, South Africa finds itself trailing England 1-0 in the four-match Test series. It is too early to rule out a comeback, but they will have to overcome a range of obstacles before they can compete with the hosts. Here are four issues that plague the visitors ahead of the second Test at Trent Bridge.

Opening Combination

South Africa desperately needs to find someone to support the ever-improving but over-burdened Dean Elgar at the top of the innings. They have tried names like Stiaan Van Zyl, Stephen Cook, and Theunis de Bruyn at the top. The first two were disposed of, whereas de Bruyn showed why he is more suited to the middle order with a composed 48 in the first innings at Lord's

Heino Kuhn was given the second opening slot on the back of years of consistent runs on the franchise circuit. However, the 33-year old will have to improve on his scores of 1 and 9 on Test debut if he is to keep out former Under-19 sensation and stroke maker, Aiden Markram, who many felt was worth an investment in the future. Having said that, Kuhn is likely to get another game for the sake of continuity and must find a way to combat the Anderson-Broad duo to ease the pressure on Elgar and the rest of the batting order. 

Form of Amla and Duminy

1, 39, 16, 15*, 20, 13, 15, and 2: JP Duminy's scores since the start of the New Zealand tour would indicate that he has a problem against the swinging ball. He has been getting starts without converting them into bigger scores, which is far from ideal when you consider his experience of 46 Test matches. 

Shocking returns like this have also led many to question if his Test career will finally come to an end. With ‘Captain Fantastic' Faf du Plessis set to return, it would not be surprising to see South Africa retain Theunis de Bruyn ahead of the one-day specialist. 

 

Hashim Amla is also going through the worst phase of his career, having scored just one century – that too against a struggling Sri Lanka – in his last 21 Test innings. He did not contribute on the tour of Australia, averaging 19.60, and struggled in New Zealand with a top score of 50 in 6 innings. However, his legendary status and a career average of 49.03 mean that he is worth persisting with for longer than Duminy, whose career average is a mere 32.85. Moreover, Amla is not the kind of player who would be dismissed playing an aerial pull shot when the score is 25-2 off the last ball before tea. 

 

Indiscipline 

Don't drop a catch presented by the opposition captain. At the very least don't drop him twice. Even if you do, try not to get him stumped off a no-ball. Even if that happens, try not to drop a sitter when the opposition is trying to add to an increasing fourth innings target. And Mr. Elgar, if all of that happens, try to utilize DRS more efficiently than MS Dhoni to get wickets you have actually earned. 

Hopefully, with the return of Faf du Plessis, these avoidable mistakes will be stamped out, giving South Africa a better chance of competing with hosts who have recently transitioned to a new captain in Joe Root. Dean Elgar will also be freed up to concentrate on his own game, which could lead to greater returns at the top of the order.

Rabada’s absence

Even though he took a while to settle into the tour, especially with the challenges presented by the slope at Lord’s, Kagiso Rabada dismissed Ben Stokes twice on the way to a match haul of six wickets. Add to that the manner in which Liam Dawson was embarrassed by a full toss that was too quick for him, and you can see why this prodigious talent will be sorely missed at Trent Bridge. 

Either Duanne Olivier or Chris Morris, who have played one and two Test matches respectively, will likely fill the spot vacated by Rabada. It is too early in either of their careers to predict how they will shape up on a tough tour and whether they can help Philander, Morkel, and Maharaj take the twenty wickets needed to level the series.

 

Even with all these pressing concerns, one cannot rule out a comeback from the Proteas. Although Faf du Plessis may still be reeling from the difficult birth of his child, his level-headed leadership will provide South Africa with the oxygen they seemed to lack at Lord’s. 

 

In addition, England have their fair share of concerns in the batting department, with Gary Ballance yet to find his stride, Alastair Cook struggling against Morkel, no fixed partner for Cook at the top, and Liam Dawson coming off a pair. Joe Root will have to be prepared for a fight when he comes up against an opposition that has recently beaten Australia and New Zealand on away tours.

 

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Jay Dansinghani is a freelance writer, researcher, and author based in Hong Kong. Jay got into deep...

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