Injuries and India soften up Proteas for Australia

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    South Africa need their star batsman and skipper Faf du Plessis. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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    Australia face a daunting task against South Africa when their Test series starts on Thursday, but the Proteas may be more vulnerable than expected due to three major injury concerns and having their confidence rocked by India.

    Champion quick Dale Steyn is expected to miss the first two Tests with a heel injury, while skipper Faf du Plessis and middle-order batsman Temba Bavuma are in doubt for the first Test due to broken fingers.

    Meanwhile, the Proteas were humiliated by India on their home turf this past month, losing seven of their last nine matches in an unprecedented run of defeats against a visiting Asian team.

    While the home side beat India 2-1 in the Test series that preceded these limited-overs matches, the Proteas lost the last Test of that series and have since been beaten in six out of eight white-ball matches.

    India bossed their hosts across those ODI and T20 fixtures, with their spinners running amok and captain Virat Kohli destroying the bowlers he faced.

    Virat Kohli runs after hitting a drive

    Virat Kohli (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

    Test cricket is a vastly different format, quite obviously, but momentum can flow from one format into another, whether positive or negative. We saw that the last time Australia and South Africa clashed in Tests, just over a year ago.

    Australia entered that home series under pressure, after being flogged 5-0 in the preceding 50-over series in South Africa – Australia’s worst-ever result in an ODI series. The Aussies will be hoping the Proteas feel similar heat due to their capitulation against India in recent weeks.

    A major factor in that run of losses has been an awful luck with injuries. Not only have Steyn and Du Plessis missed all or most of those matches, but the Proteas have also at times been without superstar batsman AB de Villiers and gun wicketkeeper-batsman Quentin de Kock.

    Both De Villiers and De Kock have missed the past few matches in an effort to be fit to face Australia on Thursday in Durban. It seems likely that pair will play in that match, but the hosts will be without Steyn and probably at least one of Du Plessis and Bavuma.

    The unavailability of Steyn is a great disappointment for cricket fans, given the phenomenal battles he has had with Australia over the past decade. With 70 wickets at 27, no quick in world cricket has caused the Aussies more trouble in that time.

    South Africa's cricketer Dale Steyn. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE

    Cricket needs Dale Steyn back. (AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE)

    Yet losing Du Plessis for the series opener would be an even bigger blow to South Africa. They are well placed to cover for the absence of Steyn thanks to their incredible pace depth, which I wrote about recently.

    But their batting stocks are not nearly as deep as their pace stocks, meaning Du Plessis would leave a gaping hole in their top six, while also depriving them of his impressive leadership and on-field tactics. The skipper loves playing against Australia, having piled up 713 runs at a touch below 60 in eight Tests against them.

    Among that haul have been several innings of extreme importance. Most famously, he made 78 and 110* on debut at Adelaide in 2012, saving the Test for his side with an eight-hour masterpiece in their second innings.

    In the next Test, at Perth, Du Plessis’ knock of 78* rescued his side from 6-75 on Day 1. In his most recent match against Australia, he compiled a wonderful 118* in a total of 259 on a juicy Adelaide deck in the day-night Test.

    South Africa’s middle order is already weakened at present due to the major form slump of De Kock, who has averaged just 14 in his past eight Tests, so they can ill afford to be without Du Plessis.

    His absence would also make it harder for the Proteas to find the right balance to play five bowlers, the strategy they used in all three Tests against India.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • February 24th 2018 @ 8:04am
      DavSA said | February 24th 2018 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Howzit Ronan. A few thoughts re your article. ….. The Proteas test squad is fully settled . Only real question is will Dale Steyn be included.. He will play the final T20 against India tomorrow . Lets see . But who will he replace if fit ? Rabada , Ngidi , Philander , Morkel ( playing his best cricket ever imo). Especially if one takes into account the political issues.Listening to Zondi the head of the SA selection panel on a local programme today he explained the Proteas selection thoughts regarding the ODI series against India. He said they simply wanted to look at expanding our player footprint with 2019 in mind. Ok I don’t particularly agree because of what you have allured to in the previous series against Aus where we dominated and took that into the test series. By the way as i sit here your guys are training in Benoni at our local stadium less than 2km from me.But yes Australia have been the dominant side on our own turf since post apartheid cricket. Paul Harris if you remember him , a spin bowler for the Proteas said on TV this morning that SA has never had a better opportunity to see that right.

      • February 24th 2018 @ 9:55am
        Fergus said | February 24th 2018 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        As of the moment Australia seem to have the stronger batting lineup and a comparative bowling lineup (though that will depend on cummins ability/willingness to bowl a good length). Australia’s 2 stars Dave and Steve (how aussie can you get?) are in good form with the lesser lights in Ussie, Shaun, Mitch and Tim coming off the back of strong to reasonable performances. With only Cameron struggling for form.

        Compare that to south africa where De Cock has been in bad form, along with Markram. De Villiers, Amla, Elgar and Du Plessis have been in middling form. All of a sudden southafrica’s batting looks quite alot weaker considering they have one less bat and one more bat in poor form and none in good form. visually it would look something like this

        South Africa

        B form – 2
        M form – 4
        G form – 0


        B form – 1
        M form – 1
        G form – 5

        (i put Ussie as middling form, as until the end of the series he was middling to poor form)

        so as you can see form wise in the batting department Aus has a significant advantage.

        hmmm could almost have posted this as a post as it’s a rather lengthy reply. but i do seem to excel at those

        • February 24th 2018 @ 11:49am
          DaveJ said | February 24th 2018 @ 11:49am | ! Report

          Some of the SA bats may seem in average form, but only because no one was scoring big in the series against India, thanks to the wickets. Markram looked in good form to me, and is a much better prospect than Bancroft. Elgar has become a very solid opener, de Villiers has as much talent as anyone in world cricket (plus a fine record) , du Plessis and de Kock also have much better records than the Marsh brothers. Bavuma is no great shakes, but overall their batting shades ours. The really big danger comes from Rabada and Philander who both average 18 with the ball in South Africa! Lyon is a superior spinner overall to Maharaj, but that is unlikely to make a huge difference on SA pitches, and for some reason Australia has shown a weakness at times against decent left arm orthodox. And Maharaj is decent enough- he has a much better average (27) than Lyon for example, although that’s in large part to good results vs Bangladesh, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.

          • Columnist

            February 24th 2018 @ 1:00pm
            Ronan O'Connell said | February 24th 2018 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

            G’day DavSA,

            Where did you read that Steyn will play the T20 final tomorrow? The latest reports out of SA and Aussie media are that he’s expected to miss at least the first two Tests.

            Fergus I think you’re being far too harsh on the SA batsmen, the only one I’d say is undoubtedly in bad form is de Kock, who averages 14 over his past 8 Tests.

            Elgar has been very good the past two years, Markram has had a great start to his Test career, Faf has been very good in recent times and AB looked great against India. Amla’s been in middling form, he’s definitely not the same batsman he was 3-4 years ago.

            • February 24th 2018 @ 3:21pm
              Nudge said | February 24th 2018 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

              South Africa’s batting line up is pretty strong. Markram has had a sensational start to his test career. He looks the real deal. Elgar is looking more and more like Justin Langer just with a few less shots. Amla is definitely not the same as he was but he’s going to be good for 1 test ton, Devilliers is an absolute gun and will be up for this. I can hardly remember Duplessis failing against us, and while De-Koch is out of form, for players of his class that can change completely.
              It wouldn’t surprise either if the wicket has a bit in it SA might just play 4 fast bowlers in Morkel Rabada Philander and either Ngidi or Steyn which allows them to play another batsman. Personally I hope they go with the 4 quicks and Maharaj which will give us a big chance to rip through their lower order

            • February 24th 2018 @ 3:43pm
              DavSA said | February 24th 2018 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

              It was reported on Inside Edge , a local Supersporrt discussion programme Ronan . The programme guest was an SA selector Zondi. Agree on Markram. He has been groomed for some years now , right from junior level to assume the captaincy once Faf moves on. I know he did not have the greatest series against India with the bat but apart from Kohli who was also a dash lucky in the amount of lives he was gifted , who did really? When Markram is on song he is one of the most attractive stroke players out there and very watchable.

            • February 25th 2018 @ 8:52pm
              Fergus said | February 25th 2018 @ 8:52pm | ! Report

              Your probably right on Elgar he has had a stellar past two years but his most recent form has been mediocre (very close to good though, he was borderline for me, maybe i was harsh) if you don’t count Bangladesh. Same goes for Markram i guess.

              AB did look great but he didn’t perform great, he performed mediocre, the wickets where tough at times but good enough that a good player i.e. kholi could average in the mid 40’s and get a century. SA’s tour of Australia arguably had wickets of a similar difficulty and players managed to average mid 40’s to fifties there.

              Faf is recovering from an injury so who knows how that will effect his batting, though last i checked broken fingers don’t seem to bother him much.

              Yeah it’s a bit of a shame but Amla’s not quite the same, whether it’s his eye or just a run of mediocre form i don’t know.

              • February 26th 2018 @ 12:44am
                DavSA said | February 26th 2018 @ 12:44am | ! Report

                Elgar mediocre Fergus ? scored 90 plus on a snake pit.

              • February 26th 2018 @ 2:14pm
                Fergus said | February 26th 2018 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

                Get your facts right Dave it was 86 not out.

                also maybe read what people write, i know for some people using there brains to think and critically evaluate can be very difficult but do try

                “Your probably right on Elgar he has had a stellar past two years but his most recent form has been mediocre (very close to good though, he was borderline for me, maybe i was harsh) if you don’t count Bangladesh. Same goes for Markram i guess.”

                Read it and weep Dave.

              • February 27th 2018 @ 6:44pm
                DavSA said | February 27th 2018 @ 6:44pm | ! Report

                It is Dav , Fergus not Dave . Try and “read” properly. Picking on a small error which I posted off the top of the head and then using it to justify an attack on me was pretty uncalled for . You did say that Elgar of late has been mediocre and I simply disagreed with that . How on earth did I read that wrong.

          • February 24th 2018 @ 4:04pm
            DavSA said | February 24th 2018 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

            Agree on all Dave except your assessment of Temba Bavuma. He has a test average after 27 tests of 34 . Considering that he had a very slow start to his career he appears to be improving all the time. Also a very popular player within the team and brings in a good dressing room vibe . Very important. He is a superb fielder , particularly at short leg. You wont see any of the established stars willing to stand there.

          • February 25th 2018 @ 8:42pm
            Fergus said | February 25th 2018 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

            I probably should have specified that to judge the form of the players i took there most recently completed series. So i wasn’t including bangladesh because away from home on non-spinner friendly wickets their attack is cannon fodder attack, basically give me runs.

            Dave i said on form Australia’s batting lineup looks better, there’s no doubt south Africa’s lineup has a superior record with the bat but it doesn’t matter how good you have been it matters how good you are right now.

            • February 25th 2018 @ 10:27pm
              Nudge said | February 25th 2018 @ 10:27pm | ! Report

              Fergus, you’re not factoring in the wickets when judging the form of their “most recently completed series”. One series was played on flat Australian wickets where the ball virtually didn’t swing all series. One test match wicket was rated poor because the wicket was so flat. Even the SCG Australia made 650 odd. Now compare that to the South African wickets against India. All 3 tests had plenty of movement off the pitch and in the air. One match was stopped for 20 minutes while discussions were had to cancel the match because the wicket was to dangerous. So you can’t compare the form of the 2 batting teams. It’s like comparing a chicken to a zebra.

              • February 25th 2018 @ 11:55pm
                Fergus said | February 25th 2018 @ 11:55pm | ! Report

                It’s not like comparing a chicken and a zebra its like comparing how 2 teams batted without doing an indepth comparison of every wicket.

                “you’re not factoring in the wickets”

                so did Steve Smith average 70 odd across the indian series even though 2 of the pitches where mindfields? did Usman Khawaja average over 50 during the SA series? did he average over 86.75 during the first 3 shield matches when only one team score of over 300 was made in Queensland’s shield matches?

                the answer to all the above is yes and the point being that good form can be maintained on difficult batting wickets. i get your point it’s easier to score on batting friendly wickets, but that doesn’t mean the difference cant be accounted for (you just assume i haven’t)

                With regards to Australia’s wickets being flat you neglected to mention that on those flat wickets England got all out 4 times, twice losing by an innings defeat, one on the SCG. Why you said even the SCG i don’t know as at times in the past year it’s been super flat and it spun considerably on days 4 and 5 this year so it had something for the bowlers latter on. But yes, Australia played on flatter wickets then South Africa.

                I’d say a good career average is mid 40’s and that takes into account playing on both flat wickets and challenging wickets. Furthermore i’d say playing on difficult or good wickets +/-‘s 5 runs (not very scientific i know). So when comparing players playing on good wicket to bad that 10 runs. So a 40+ average player for south Africa would be in good form and a 50+ for Australia would also be in good form, 40 v 30 for mediocre and 30v 20 for poor. On that basis Australia would still come out ahead

                Now if you want to work out a the percentage of team runs batsmen score, then control using team scores in order to work out what the actual difference between playing on flat wickets and juicy wickets is, be my guest but i don’t have the time or willpower so rough guesswork is what i used.

                Keep in mind a batsmen’s confidence is going to increase more from scoring a century on a flat track then it is from scoring a half century in difficult conditions.

    • February 24th 2018 @ 9:34am
      BrainsTrust said | February 24th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

      Steyn is past it, this shoulld be a big enough occasion for Bollywood De Villiers to lower himself to play in test cricket, South Africa do have depth in batting, the only question is how much is the mint suckers work on the ball and captaincy worth.

    • February 24th 2018 @ 9:56am
      Paul said | February 24th 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      There are lots of comparisons that can be made between the two teams. The openers are a question mark in both sides where SA has got off to starts but struggled mostly because of the pitches. Bancroft is still finding his feet but is sticking with it, so we’ve gotten starts.

      Our middle order was strong on good pitches but as you say, the SA middle order has been hurt by injuries and form. We are probably stronger on paper but need to avoid batting collapses.

      Our bowling edge is Lyons and I reckon he’ll have a major say in this series.

      Much though will depend on the pitches. I still don’t think these will be the same greentops they produced for India because they really don’t want 2 day Tests or face the prospect of having a Test venue banned for 12 months.

      Should be a great series. By the way, i the SA squad is so settled how come I can’t find it on Google?

      • February 25th 2018 @ 4:44pm
        DavSA said | February 25th 2018 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

        Barring injuries Paul the team picks itself. Elgar , Markram , Amla , ABDV , Du Plessis , De Kock , Philander , Maharaj , Morkel , Rabada , Ngidi. Thats just off the top of my head . This was the team that beat India and will be again barring injuries the one to play Aus. Even if fit Dale Steyn will not get selected unless one of the other quicks get hurt. . Too risky. Bavuma will be first in if either ABDV or Du Plessis are injured and Klaasen will take the gloves if De Kock is injured.Sounds pretty settled to me. There will be no surprises.

        • Columnist

          February 25th 2018 @ 6:11pm
          Ronan O'Connell said | February 25th 2018 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

          DavSA while the Proteas were happy to play one less batsman and have Philander at 7 against India I’ve got a feeling they’ll consider that a bit risky against the much stronger bowling attack of Australia.

          I’m expecting Bavuma to come in at 6, with one of Ngidi or Maharaj missing out on the 1st Test, depending on pitch conditions.

          • February 25th 2018 @ 10:23pm
            DavSA said | February 25th 2018 @ 10:23pm | ! Report

            The pitch preparation is certainly the Elephant in the room. What are we going to get ? I am done second guessing as I am inevitably wrong. However who is calling the shots re pitch preparation . Is it The SA Board or is it the senior players?. A few batsmen were really hurt , Elgar in particular took a nasty blow to his visor which injured him . Other players on both sides in The Indian series ended the matches with fingers in particular taking a hammering. Elgar appeared less than pleased in a post match interview with regards the pitch.

    • February 24th 2018 @ 10:44am
      Bob Sims said | February 24th 2018 @ 10:44am | ! Report

      Can’t wait. Let’s just see how they line up on day 1 before we all go crazy with our predictions. Apart from Bancroft, the top six were less than impressive in their warm-up outing so far.

      • Columnist

        February 25th 2018 @ 6:17pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | February 25th 2018 @ 6:17pm | ! Report

        Bob Shaun Marsh also had a decent match in what was a low-scoring game with scores 25 and 39no.

    • February 24th 2018 @ 10:46am
      Tanmoy Kar said | February 24th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

      Due to softening up by India, Australia will start this Test Series as favorite and they probably will win the Series by 3-1.

    • Roar Guru

      February 24th 2018 @ 11:11am
      Ryan H said | February 24th 2018 @ 11:11am | ! Report

      And thank goodness, my favourite part is four tests! Three tests against RSA in 2016-17 at home was OK, but I think given in the last decade these two teams have produced just about the best quality test cricket between two teams, this simply had to be a four test series. If my memory serves me correct the November 2011 tour of RSA was only two tests? A two test series is pretty paltry nowadays, and almost not worth the effort.

      Bring on a gripping and high quality series come Thursday!

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