Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane November 7, 2012

South Africa's batting under scrutiny at the Gabba

The question facing South Africa ahead of the Gabba Test is whether they play six or seven specialist batsmen. Jacques Rudolph will be under pressure, with Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy as competition

Two days before the start of the first Test, the Gabba pitch is a strip of green. Its characteristic and colour could be toned down in the 48 hours before the Test starts but it should still be the scene of first-hour fireworks, if not first-day sparks. The batsmen will have as important a role to play as the pacemen and that's the way Jacques Kallis sees it. "Both bowling attacks are up there with the best in the world and it could end up being a tough battle for the batters," he said. "The side that doesn't crumble against the pressure will be set up well."

With South Africa's extended seven-man line-up, they may seem the side better equipped to put up that wall but Ricky Ponting was hardly convinced. "I don't see their batting line-up being much stronger than India's was last year."

Considering that India lost the series 4-0, scoring 400 just once and passing 250 on only two other occasions, Ponting was obviously taking a dig. Add to that that India were dismissed for less than 200 four times and he may have been just plain insulting. Of course, he could have simply been referring to the fact that India, like South Africa, also had a seven-strong batting line-up (save for the fourth Test when MS Dhoni had to sit out) and most of them consistently failed.

Ponting's opinion may offend South Africa, but it stings of some sort of truth - their obvious weak link. Jacques Rudolph at No.6 has not performed to the standard of the rest of the line-up and it is understood that he has been told his pressure to keep his place is not far away.

Since his Test comeback a year ago, Rudolph has scored three half-centuries and a hundred in 16 innings, which does not make it sound like his head is on the block. The circumstances, more than statistics, will explain. Rudolph went seven innings before he reached a milestone and his approach had gone from fairly sedate to overly and unnecessarily attacking in that time. His unbeaten 51 came against Sri Lanka in Cape Town, after Alviro Petersen and Jacques Kallis had both scored hundreds and while AB de Villiers was going berserk at the other end.

In other words, those runs came in stress-free fashion and not when the team was in trouble. The only time Rudolph has produced in that situation was when he came in with South Africa at 90 for 4 in Dunedin in March and ground out 52 in tough conditions. His century in the second innings was also once a platform had been set by twin hundreds from higher up. At Headingley, he made 69 as an opener but had the settled Graeme Smith on the other side.

With his mettle proving pliable when the heat is turned up, Rudolph's place is in question on two fronts. Either South Africa will look to go back to a more traditional six man line-up and play the specialist wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile to relieve the burden on AB de Villiers' back, or they will persist with the seven-man approach. Whichever way they go, Rudolph will be first in the firing line.

JP Duminy, who currently bats at No.7, has admitted that he will "get more opportunity," if he is able to bat one place higher and seems deserving of the spot. Duminy, unlike Rudolph, has taken the chances he has been presented with. In Wellington, when he was included because Kallis had a stiff neck, he scored a hundred and he made an important 61 at Lord's in August.

Should they drop a batsman for de Villiers' sake, it is likely Duminy will replace Rudolph. If they continue to operate with seven though, there is someone else knocking on the door. Faf du Plessis is part of the Test squad, played in the warm-up match at the SCG and has enjoyed resurgence in his first-class game.

When du Plessis moved up the order for the Titans from No.7 to No.5 last season, he scored 599 runs in four matches and showed a penchant for spending time at the crease. His overall first-class average is 38.30, which may not see him as an automatic pick in a Test team but Rudolph's average since his comeback has been 37.14. There's little to choose between the two apart from temperament and technique and Rudolph can be certain his will be tested fully in Australia.

"Short balls are an area that we think we can really attack them," Ponting said. Rudolph was one of the batsmen the England attack also targeted with bouncers and on occasion, he succumbed. Kallis was not overly concerned by that. "The nature of Australian wickets with pace and bounce mean that the short ball will be used but invariably it's balls in good areas that tend to get batters out," he said.

That can only mean a thorough examination of anyone who walks to the crease with willow in hand will be conducted over this series and the Gabba's surface - green or not - will be a good place to start.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shakti on November 8, 2012, 6:49 GMT

    The short ball will be an important factor,but that would require Australia producing fast pitches which could backfire also.South African batsmen are not the strongest against bounce,Kallis has been the most frail against the short ball.Kallis' success depends on the top order succeeding,most of his centuries are scored once one of the top 3 have a century themselves.I think if Australia have spicy pitches that can allow 4 seamers they will win comfortably.Mitchell Starc,James Pattinson,Peter Siddle & Ben Hilfenhaus have the variety,pace & accuracy to destroy any lineup.S.A have Imran Tahir,a bowler batsmen love.

  • Paul on November 8, 2012, 2:03 GMT

    They don't have a seven-man batting lineup. Their number six is half a batsman whose batting is struggling while he keeps. And Duminy bats below him, which is a good indicator of his ability.

  • Helmut on November 8, 2012, 1:46 GMT

    ...Steyn and co will be around to inflict similar if not deadlier pain on a very fragile batting line-up as it is. That's right! Because the bowlers between the lot of them have 3 bowlers inside the top 10. Over the course of this series that will be the ultimate decider. 7/11 players in the top 10 v Aussies' 3/11. After Day 1 of the 1st Test in ENG earlier, everyone in Eng other than a Saffa thought they had it won. SA and its bowlers had a very avg day in the field. What happened virtualy from the 1st ball the next day? That's the Q mark hanging over this Aus bowling line-up. Can they make a comeback? Before too much damage has been done? I'm sure they'll be playing for the win but SA only need a draw here. They have more than enough in their arsenal to achieve this. Plus some loose change...Best of luck to both teams! May Cricket be the winner

  • Helmut on November 8, 2012, 1:29 GMT

    Hilarious. SA's batting line-up is under scrutiny because Jacques Rudolph supposedly hasn't produced, whereas JP has and Faf also breathing down his neck. 4 Batsmen in the top 10 and yet they are still scrutinised. So what to do about the Aussie line-up? Inquisition? They have a fragile (to say the least) top order made up of a 'positive above all else' Warner, balanced with a slow as snails Cowan and a rookie coming of a good score on a dead pitch. Between them they've a handfull of Tests. Their middle order is made up of the big 3 in Ponting, Hussey and Clarke. None of them made any runs of note against the SA bowling attack in the distant past but they all vow this time it's going to be different. I expect Aus to be 60-80 odd for 4 on a regular basis. Jacques Rudolph at least have the luxury of banking on a tried and tested top and semi mid-order. The odd chance is there, but I can't see him walking in at 5 down with hardly any runs on the board. And if that's the case...

  • Harvey on November 8, 2012, 1:23 GMT

    I just hope it will be a year without Mitchell Johnson

  • Ash on November 7, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    i suppose all seven of your batsmen can't be top 10 in the world although they're getting close! amla, AB, kallis and smith?

  • Sanjay on November 7, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    This series will tells us how South Africa deal with the pressure of being No.1. Does the crown fit? When the won in Oz, back in 2008, I was very surprised, nay shocked, so hats off to them.

    However, SA continue to flummox with selectorial decisions, it's pretty obvious that JP Duminy is a class act, he should be in the starting line-up, he also happens to be the man who played a major role in that historic series win in 2008.

    Imran Tahir has been a disappointment, I expected him to do have done much better but am not convinced that Graeme Smith has handled him well on the field. If Tahir has a lame series, Robin Pietersen must be the #1 spinner, I hope they don't recall the defensive and non-spinning Paul Harris.

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2012, 17:57 GMT

    Expecting a great contest....!! SA will win the series (2-1).

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2012, 17:49 GMT

    Hey Ponting!! U really sound very optimist. But I believe SA is much more equipped to handle short stuffs. Just comparing batters against batters will give SA upper hand. While in bowling department the gap is much FATTER. Any reasonable head will give SA the edge. However the only advantage Aussies have is HOME TURF. But I doubt if that will be enough to outclass SA. They are truly remarkable and deserves every bit to remain number 1. Overall it will be a good series for Test cricket. (Hope Aussie will live up to their reputation.)

  • des on November 7, 2012, 14:38 GMT

    I agree that Rudolph's place is in doubt and I would choose Duminy ahead of him. But I find it strange that you can applaud Duminy's 100 in NZ and his 61 at Lords, while dismissing Rudolph's 100 in NZ and his 69 at Headingly. That 69 at Headingly was under severe pressure as KP had just played a blinder, Alviro was injured, and Rudolph was made to open at short notice. How can you say there was no pressure on him just because Smith was at the other end? Bizarre logic.

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