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Prioritise Proteas always





Sadly, the optimism that was apparent after the Proteas' performance at Trent Bridge, where they did remarkably well to defeat England and level the series, has evaporated at The Oval with a sub-par performance against the home side. Faf du Plessis and his team were well beaten during this third test match, much like they were in the first test at Lord's.

Winning test series on a regular basis requires consistency in performance across five days. It is not possible to win test matches against competitive teams with erratic play that varies from session to session and match to match. It is difficult to understand how a team goes from an excellent performance, like the Proteas put in at Trent Bridge, to a poor performance, like they did at The Oval.

Until the Trent Bridge test match the current tour of England has been a difficult one. It looked at Trent Bridge as if the team turned the corner and could approach the last two test matches with confidence and optimism. In fact, the England pundits were concerned about the fragile nature of their team and tipped the Proteas to win the series.

The third test at The Oval was lost on the first day-and-a-half, when bowling conditions were perfect and England managed to survive some tricky situations and post a very decent score under the prevailing circumstances. This was done through the heroics of Alistair Cook and Ben Stokes, who both made excellent contributions.

The Proteas had their problems with Vernon Philander who, through illness, couldn't bowl as much as he would have normally under ideal bowling conditions. Having said that, no team can rely on one bowler to do all the damage, and the combined bowling effort of the pace bowlers in particular during that first innings wasn't up to the mark.

England, on the other hand, bowled superbly during this match, with newcomer Toby Rowland-Jones making an impressive debut. As a unit the England bowlers exploited a South African batting line-up that is looking increasingly frail.

The principle of changing to six specialist batsmen in favour of seven batsmen is the right decision at this point. It is the job of the top six in test matches to produce enough runs to either secure a draw or set the stage for victory.

The problem is that there are weaknesses within the top six. Ideally, the top six batsmen in test cricket should all average 40 plus. The one opening spot remains a concern, with Heino Kuhn struggling during the series so far. Dean Elgar does a great job at the other end and did so again in a lost cause in this match.

There will be a temptation to play Aiden Markham in the last test. This is exactly what the selectors did in New Zealand in February when they dropped Stephen Cook and played Theunis de Bruyn in the opening spot. Like De Bruyn on that tour, Markham has had no match play for weeks. If he is seen as a long-term solution to the opening problem it may be better to wait for the Bangladesh series in October to give him a decent run.

The brilliance of Hashim Amla, who has been so good for so long in that No 3 position, hasn't quite been in evidence for a while now. Believe me, Amla is still good, but he has set such high standards and been so solid at No 3 that both the team and the public have been spoiled by his remarkable performances over a long time.

Moving Quinton de Kock up the order is also a good decision. I would, however, rather bat him at No 5 or six and then move captain Faf du Plessis to four. In any event, successful batting units in test cricket can rely on two of the top six batsmen to score hundreds in most test matches. Unfortunately, that is not happening at present.

Chris Morris has the ideal opportunity to cement his spot as an allrounder in the team. The factor that is holding him back is his inconsistency with the ball. He bowls some wicket-taking deliveries but he doesn't apply enough pressure. Even though his role is to bowl fast and aggressively, he still has to be able to maintain the pressure that someone like Vernon Philander creates. If he leaks too many boundaries during his spell that pressure disappears quickly.

I know there are a lot of things happening in South African cricket at present, with the global T20 a priority. Nothing can happen at the expense of the Proteas. They still need to be the focal point. Our cricket will always be measured by the performance of the national team.

Hopefully the Proteas can finish a long and arduous tour with one more good performance and level the series.


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