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South Africa's batting woes

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South_Africa_cricket_Test_batting361, 119, 335, 343, 175, 252. 

These are South Africa's scores in the three Test matches in England thus far. There are three scores above 300, one of them a declaration at Trent Bridge, but also two scores below 200 and an average 252 in the final innings at The Oval completing the list. Compare this to the scores they compiled in 2012, when they last toured England:

637, 419, 258, 309, 351 

They batted just five times with an innings victory at The Oval. Here, there is just one score below 300 and even that was a bold declaration made in pursuit of a win at Leeds. All the other scores are above 300 with one of them a mammoth 637 when Amla alone made 311*. 

The huge difference in team scores is an indication of how South Africa have fared on this tour thus far. Their batting has been cluttered, the manner of dismissals has reeked of irresponsibility and for the first time in a long while, they lost two Tests in a series outside the sub-continent. 

They are in danger of increasing that number to 3 if they don't regroup before the final Test at Manchester. 

So what exactly is wrong with this South African line-up?

Surely, we aren't heading back to the AB de Villiers debate because they won series against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka without him and their batting appeared well coordinated and compact in those matches. 

 

The opening combination

For a long time, the opening partnership has been a big headache for South Africa. Dean Elgar has been outstanding but has waged a lone battle on several occasions. He has had five partners in the last 22 Tests with none of them doing enough to cement their spot. 

 

Heino Kuhn, experienced and talented, is the final of the failed experiments although Faf du Plessis stresses that Kuhn will be persisted with for the whole series. The thing about Kuhn is that he has a mountain of runs in First-class cricket, much alike his predecessor, Stephen Cook. Unfortunately, not unlike Cook, there is a flaw in his technique, which the miserly England seamers have well exploited. 

 

He tends to hang back to deliveries that are pitched up and Broad and Anderson kept pitching it up to him. At the Oval, he made adjustments and appeared more eager to move forward, but couldn't carry on in similar fashion. An average of 13 with 78 runs after 6 innings screams for a new player and with Aiden Markram available in the squad, South Africa may not need to look too far. Opening the batting is a thankless job in these conditions but South Africa should give young Markram a go. 

 

Failure of experienced players

In most of South Africa's overseas triumphs over the past decade, their experienced men have played a huge role. Be it Hashim Amla in India, AB de Villiers in Australia or Graeme Smith in England, the bigger players have stepped up and shown the way. 

This time, however, the experienced men, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla have come a cropper with the former leaving four balls across two innings at the Oval, and two of them resulting in dismissals. Amla has struggled to keep up to his standards in the last two years and with all the pressure in the middle-order hanging on his head, he has had a tough time. 

Toby Roland-Jones exploited Amla's weakness to perfection in the third Test and if South Africa need to improve, the likes of Amla and Faf have to stand up. JP Duminy, another experienced player, was dropped after a few dismal performances and it has been up to Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma to hold together a breaking middle-order. 

 

The confused batting order

Quinton de Kock's hopes of batting in the top 5 were satisfied when Faf du Plessis returned to the helm at Trent Bridge and immediately slotted him in at 4. The move was a roaring success in the second Test with de Kock's counter-attacking style disrupting England's plans. 

 

But with the onus of keeping and having to come in with the ball slightly old, de Kock has struggled with his timing. It could be a feasible move for de Kock to slot in at 5 with du Plessis moving back to no. 4. The skipper has confirmed that Philander and Morris will continue to man the lower middle-order at 7 and 8. Although the latter was poor at Oval, he deserves another chance for the X-Factor he brings to the table. 

 

The batting order is cluttered at the moment and some slight tweaking could help make things better for Manchester. 

All said and done, both these teams have glaring weaknesses but are strong in their own ways, which is reflected in the large margins of victory in all three Tests. The see-sawing battle could continue at Manchester as the series comes to a thrilling conclusion.

 

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