AB needs more time to bat
If one were to select a one-day international team from all players available, there are two names that come to my mind that I am pretty sure would be on the sheet of paper put in front of just about everybody.
Those two names are AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla. These two players’ weight of runs and consistency over the last while have been incredible. Amla brings stability at the top of the order while AB's versatility means that he is able to play according to whatever the situation requires and still be effective.
The Proteas have both these players at their disposal and need to ensure that they are put in roles that best serve the team and give them a better chance of success. Just how that is done is a bone of contention, certainly when it comes to De Villiers. It is pretty simple in the case of Hashim Amla as he is an opening batsman and that role need not change as his has been very successful there.
Gary Kirsten and his management team have been open about their policy to put players in varying positions in the batting order to expose them to various situations and have them learn how to deal with them. Against Sri Lanka in early 2012, this seemed to work quite nicely as those that were moved up and down performed credibly and the team managed to win some games.
The same has been done in England and results have been varied with the middle order failing to gel. What must be asked is whether there has been benefit to those particular players and the team from the experience of batting in different positions?
It is difficult to know what the results of the experiments are and looking at the outcome of the one-day matches played in England does not quite give the answer. It is important to wait and see what happens when the next series comes along as that is where the lessons of the England series can be drawn from.
Back to the use of De Villiers then; there is a school of thought that says he should walk in at number four no matter what the situation in the game is as he is a versatile player able to adapt to the situation and play accordingly in order to give South Africa the upper hand.
I support the view that his batting position should be determined, whether it be 4 or 5, and think that despite the attempts to figure out where others should bat, there are those in the team whose roles can be nailed down straight away and they can get busy doing what they will be doing when the team arrives at being settled in terms of the order they’ll employ.
For instance, Amla will always open the batting and Kallis (when he plays) will either open with Amla or bat at number 3. De Villiers becoming the permanent number 4 or 5 would be a good ploy in my opinion -- even in this experimenting phase. One could work around AB and have those who need to find where they fit going in at 3 or 5 and 6 in the batting order.
My view is borne from the thought that there are not many teams who would be jumping at the prospect of trying to contain Amla and De Villiers in full flow despite both being right-handed batsmen. Some have said that it is important to have a right hand/left hand combination; well, if that can be done then yes, but not at the cost of sending lesser players up the order and giving them more time to bat than the gun player in the side.
Some may say if the Proteas had won the one-day series against England then the thinking would be different; mine would not as I believe that South Africa will get more out of De Villiers if he has more time to bat than anyone else in that middle order.
As this is a time when the coach is trying to figure out certain permutations and combinations, I hope that the time comes when the combinations will be known and the limited overs side will have the settled look and feel of the test match team. When that time comes, I hope that De Villiers is afforded the chance to face the majority of the fifty overs.
It is a rather long while to January 19 when the Proteas play their next one-day game...only then we will see.