Vacancy: Key requirement — able to score centuries once in a while. Failing that‚ the b***s to bat out at least a session.
If selection convener Linda Zondi or coach Ottis Gibson could place an advertisement in the help wanted section of the newspapers going into SA’s new season‚ it would read something like that.
Vacancies exist in those key batting departments‚ and while the deficiencies are unlikely to be exposed in the two Tests against Bangladesh in September, they will face more searching examination against India and Australia later in the year.
But cricket-minded types have not resorted to the classified columns of newspapers since August 1882‚ when The Sporting Times published a mock obituary for English cricket after their team was beaten by Australia.
Instead‚ Zondi and Gibson will have to rely on more conventional methods to plug the gaps that loomed large in the recent Test series in England.
Dean Elgar was SA’s sole centurion despite the visitors banking 13 half-centuries‚ and not once did they escape a session without losing a wicket.
How much that matters is debatable: England had only two centuries and 14 half-centuries. Balls faced by all batsmen over the course of the series? England 3,912‚ SA 3,687.
So‚ what made the difference? The answer lay on the other side of the equation‚ according to someone who knows a few things about scoring centuries and batting time.
"It seemed like the wickets didn’t suit batsmen on either side; conditions weren’t that conducive for them‚" said former Test opener Jimmy Cook‚ who scored 64 centuries and 87 half-centuries in his 475 innings in first-class cricket.
"But if you’re going to play only three seamers, the pitches are going to have to be like that and batsmen will struggle."
Considering two of SA’s opponents this summer are from the subcontinent‚ and that the temptation to exact retribution for the diabolical pitches prepared in India for SA’s series there in 2015 will be strong‚ expect that trend to continue.
Cook also saw a complication in the happy news that AB de Villiers had made himself available in all three formats from the start of India’s tour.
"When AB comes back someone is going to have to sit out‚ and it’s going to be tricky‚" Cook said. "Who will that be?
"It’s great he’s going to be back‚ but it would have been better if he was playing from the start.
"Now‚ someone who plays as a batsman against Bangladesh is not going to play against India."
De Villiers has not appeared in a Test since January 2016‚ and SA have played 15 without him.
They have totalled 400 or more only four times in 24 completed innings‚ and have been dismissed for fewer than 250 in six others. Will De Villiers’ return help improve that record? It is up to him to answer that question‚ but he did not score a century in his last 14 Test innings and recorded four ducks in the process — three in succession in his most recent trips to the crease.
But he remains AB de Villiers‚ a freak of the first water‚ a player who defies analysis and sometimes even the laws of physics.
He scores Test centuries more frequently than once in a while — 21 in 176 innings — and SA’s opponents tend to be deep in trouble if he bats for a session or more.