- Their batting still so wretched in Subcontinent conditions, the Proteas have no choice but to lengthen it on paper.
- It will mean the sacrifice of a frontline bowler in Rawalpindi … but beefy totals are also needed to win Tests.
- George Linde is a tenacious individual at the crease but simply not a proven, Test-calibre No 7 batsman.
It is the classic catch-22 situation for South Africa in Pakistan.
Now 1-0 down in the two-Test series, and victory in Rawalpindi from next Thursday required to salvage a draw in the short exercise, one of the first thoughts – understandably – has to be ensuring that the “20-wickets job” on the host nation can be completed.
By extension, it will mean having to be careful not to under-resource the bowling department, in the event that the Pakistanis are prepared to take a cautious approach to the second encounter, knowing that stalemate is sufficient there for the overall honours.
But matches are also won by runs on the board … an area where the Proteas’ acute fallibility on the Subcontinent simply continues.
In terms of batting, there were two major causes for a demoralised feeling if you were SA-inclined in the opening Test: first the failure to post even a remotely satisfactory total in the first innings (220 in fewer than 70 overs) after Quinton de Kock won an excellent toss, and then the way the once-budding second knock subsided.
The latter was, frankly, inexplicable.
There is just no way you should fall like a house of cards to 245 all out from a situation of 175 at the fall of the second wicket, having seen Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen at last show the kind of resolve, patience and gumption required in a lengthy alliance of 127.
Mental stranglehold? Pakistan already boast that in shovel-loads, as a result, and it is difficult to see a way the tourists can extract themselves dramatically enough, batting-wise, to turn the tables in the second Test … hardly helped by skipper and key stroke-player De Kock’s current struggles at the crease.
But they can – and must – respond structurally.
In that regard, the SA brains trust would be well advised to take note of the reservations expressed by Pakistan pace great Wasim Akram in television commentary as the Karachi Test moved fast toward an inevitable outcome, in the Proteas’ second-dig capitulation.
Noting that the current line-up revealed a conspicuously long tail, Wasim said he well remembered how a South African team of the years soon after the return from isolation – and who he would have played against – possessed “endless all-rounders” in the lower regions of the batting order.
In other words, many of the frontline bowlers offered genuine menace at times with the bat, too … and he was probably thinking such names as Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Pat Symcox.
The left-arm toe-crusher’s thoughts would have been influenced, no doubt, by rueful memories of a famous, inspired South Africa Test (and by extension series) win in Faisalabad in 1997.
It was the decisive, relatively low-scoring third Test after successive draws, with Akram part of a Pakistan team that somehow fell well short (92 all out) of achieving a modest victory target of 146.
There were certain other heroes in engineering the outcome, but fight by SA tailenders was a critical element of the triumph.
Off-spinner and later player-of-the-match Symcox was very much to the fore, with respective innings of 81 at No 9 and then another 55 as nightwatchman at No 4, while both Klusener and Pollock also provided some precious resistance with the willow.
Wasim’s co-commentator Daryll Cullinan, who had also played for the visitors in that remarkable, see-sawing Test, concurred with him about the look of batting vulnerability to the vast majority of the SA bowlers in Karachi.
“When South Africa are four or five down, you just get a sense that the tail is extremely (close),” said Cullinan … and he is not wrong.
A lethal cocktail is only created when your specialist batting is at probably its lowest ebb of the entire post-isolation era (and a bit before it?), and you then marry that to a fluffy tail.
Their selection arrangements potentially thrown into various forms of chaos by the back spasms suffered by intended unconventional spin pick Tabraiz Shamsi just before the toss, the Proteas opted to field five out-and-out bowlers, meaning that left-arm spinner George Linde was thrust into a batting role as high as No 7.
He is a gutsy character and can justify the berth in the moderate landscape that is South Africa’s franchise cricket, but it is a highly precarious role for him to possess at unforgiving Test level.
By hook or crook, the Proteas simply have to find a method in Rawalpindi of reducing their tally of batting “bunnies” … even if it means thinning the attack by one player to ensure genuine batting, on paper, to at least the No 7 position.
Keegan Petersen? Kyle Verreynne? It will require either the blooding at Test level of one of those in the squad, or a return to the policy that showed a bit of fruit in the recent home series against Sri Lanka: genuine all-rounder Wiaan Mulder being restored.
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