South Africa are likely to keep their combination of seven specialist batsmen for the second Test against Australia which starts on Friday. Though they had opted for a fourth fast bowler at the expense of a batsmen in the previous series against India, a lack of big contributions from their line-up, a strong Australian bowling attack and surfaces that are expected to be drier and more abrasive than usual have forced the hosts to rethink their approach.
St George’s Park is traditionally the slowest surface out of the big Test venues in South Africa, and is generally where spinners find some success. It is also where reverse swing has been a factor in the past and, with Mitchell Starc showing how effectively he could make use of that in Durban, the need for an extra batsman is apparent. “When you look at the nature of the pitch and the Aussie line-up, you feel like you need an extra batter,” coach Ottis Gibson said. “We bowled them out twice but we weren’t able to get enough runs, especially in the first innings. You can’t bat that badly in your first innings against a top team like Australia and expect to win the Test match. Even though we gave ourselves a chance of winning in the end, the poor batting in the first innings really cost us.”
After being shot out for 162, with the big names not performing and the lower order collapsing, South Africa were behind the game from day two. Gibson said they simply had to “bat better” as the series moves on and the second innings in Durban showed they are capable of doing so. Aiden Markram led the resistance with a career-best 143, Theunis de Bruyn boshed an aggressive 36 and Quinton de Kock returned to form with a stubborn 83.
With the places of seniors Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis secure, South Africa could go in with the same line-up, however they may give consideration to reserve batsman Temba Bavuma, if he has recovered from injury. Bavuma suffered a broken finger earlier in the year and has played franchise cricket since January 17. He featured in a club match in a fitness test of sorts before this series, but was ruled out of Durban because he was not fully recovered.
Gibson revealed Bavuma may be able to play in Port Elizabeth, but did not say at whose expense. “Temba is being assessed by medical staff. Last week he felt he wasn’t 100%. He’s had an extra week now and is hitting more balls in the nets. Hopefully he’ll be closer to playing.”
Similarly, the extra quick in the squad, Lungi Ngidi may have to wait a little longer for his turn after an impressive debut against India. South Africa’s struggles to nip out the Australian tail has led to some calls for Ngidi to play but Gibson has faith in the current pack to do the job. “With regards to the lower-order bowling, they have got Starc and you’ve seen how he has bowled to our tail. He has been aggressive but he’s also pitched the ball up and hit the stumps. We have Rabada, even Keshav bowled well. We’ve got to find a way to get the tail out and it might be with the spinner coming into it to try and disrupt their tail that way.”