South Africa in Australia 2012-13 October 31, 2012

South Africa's batting depth 'daunting'


Four years ago, JP Duminy stepped into Test cricket as if he was a veteran. On debut in Perth, his composed 50 not out helped South Africa complete the second-highest chase in Test history. In the second Test in Melbourne, he calmly compiled 166. It seemed he was destined to move up the order from No.6. Now South Africa are back in Australia for the first time since that trip and their batting is so deep that Duminy could be coming in all the way down at No.7.

It's a daunting prospect for Australia's bowlers. At the top is Graeme Smith, who was an inspirational leader last time South Africa visited Australia, and his opening partner Alviro Petersen, who has made himself a fixture in the side with three hundreds in seven Tests this year. Then there's Hashim Amla, who last year in South Africa the Australians found about as immovable as Table Mountain.

Then there's the small matter of Jacques Kallis at No.4. It is true that over his 18-year career Kallis has not saved his best for Australia, but anyone with 12,641 runs at 56.94 is not to be trifled with. Only once the first three wickets have fallen will the Australians see AB de Villiers, who until earlier this year was the highest-ranked Test batsman in the world. And after all that, Australia's bowlers must still deal with Jacques Rudolph and Duminy.

What makes South Africa's batting line-up even deeper than in recent series is the fact that Mark Boucher's forced retirement through a serious eye injury has allowed de Villiers to take over the wicketkeeping duties. Although he has been battling a back injury, de Villiers is likely to retain the gloves against Australia, ahead of the backup wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile.

But for all the runs South Africa's batsmen have piled up in Test cricket, the Australians know they are not infallible. James Pattinson, who is likely to be part of the attack for the first Test at the Gabba, watched with interest at the Wanderers last year when the teenager Pat Cummins delivered a sustained, hostile spell to the veteran Kallis, full of accurate bouncers, few runs, and culminating in an edge to slip.

"Any batsman is vulnerable if you bowl well," Pattinson said. "The Gabba and the WACA is going to give some good assistance for that bouncer and it's all about getting your plans against the right batsmen. We've definitely touched on that in the last couple of weeks… about how to set different batsmen up.

"Amla has been in great form, Graeme Smith has been in great form and you look at them and they're probably their key at the top of the order, as well as Kallis. It's a pretty long batting line-up and a pretty daunting task as a bowler but something that I'm looking forward to. These challenges don't come around very often. Hopefully we can knock them over and get the wood on them.

"They build their innings around Smith. He's been a fantastic player for a number of years and their captain as well. I think if you can get on top of the captain early on, especially early on in this series, it brings the other players down. If we can try and get on top of that opening partnership, get early wickets, that's the key for us, to get a look at Amla and Kallis pretty early with the new rock."

The ability of Australia's bowlers to make inroads into South Africa's batting line-up will be all the more important if Australia's batsmen wobble. The Gabba and the WACA will suit Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, arguably the best pace-bowling trio in world cricket. Pattinson, 22, was awestruck when he first saw Steyn bowl live, curling the ball whichever way he wanted, at express speed. It's a skill Pattinson has when at his best but he knows that for now, Steyn remains a cut above.

"I remember the first time I went to South Africa and I watched Dale Steyn bowl and it was unbelievable watching him bowl live," Pattinson said. "He's a fantastic athlete and it's fantastic the way he goes about it, his aggression and he swings the ball at good pace. He's someone that I would like to bowl like one day and have his record.

"It's going to be pretty hard to do because he's such a good bowler. Our batsmen are going to have to be on their best games to try and combat him and Morkel and Philander, who's almost the missing man in this, nobody is talking about him but his record over the last year has been fantastic. There'll be a bit more pressure on the bowlers to bowl well and look after our batsmen as well."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on November 1, 2012, 21:30 GMT

    @ jonesy2. If Amla is the only "batting threat" you see, you clearly are long overdue to have your eyes (or your head) examined. You certainly don't see what the rest of the world does. SA has 4 of the top 7 ranked test batsmen. Aus has 4 of the top...errr... 33! Clarke at 6, Hussey at 17, Punter at 20, Watson at 33! Hussey's poor form against SA is the subject of a current Cricinfo feature article. Punter is still class, but his form questionable & Watto can't convert starts.

    What great demons will the SA batsmen be facing? Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Pattinson, Starc & Lyon have a combined 287 test wickets, exactly the same number as Dale Steyn, & only 7 more than Kallis! (SA's 4 pacemen have 780 wickets between them!) Starc & Hilf are nowhere near match fit - another current Cricinfo feature. Siddle & Watson break down if worked hard. In comparison, Huss recently called SA's "the best attack I've faced."

    Better get those eyes examined. You may be in for a big surprise!

  • Stanton on November 1, 2012, 7:42 GMT

    @jonesy, Aussie batting is not that fantastic eather, with two pensioners in their lineup. I would not be going around classing other lineups as weak when the aussies are not that wonderful either... Aus bowling looks decent, but don't have the experience as the proteas line up has.

  • Bryn on November 1, 2012, 2:46 GMT

    the only batsman i see as a threat is amla, they get amla then its all good, de villiers isnt a threat if he keeps and duminy and rudolph? please

  • Aidan on November 1, 2012, 2:32 GMT

    I understand the appeal to making AB a keeper (to strengthen batting line up but the problem is it weakens their fielding team significantly. I also wonder the impact it will have on his batting. Time will tell.

  • Andrew on October 31, 2012, 23:22 GMT

    @HatsforBats on (October 31 2012, 09:30 AM GMT) - YES - one week to go - bring it on! @bluefunk on (October 31 2012, 16:30 PM GMT) - we just need MJ to give Patto a few tips on how to scuttle Smith, he's very knowledgable on that!

  • Andrew on October 31, 2012, 23:19 GMT

    @bestbuddy on (October 31 2012, 09:21 AM GMT) - mate, sorry but you don't get it. IMO - @Ballonbat is 100% correct - it is NEGATIVE to play AB as a Keeper. There has always been an inherant desperation in the Saffa system to have deep batting line ups - which often weaken the bowling attacks. On paper (using averages) - it would appear to strengthen the batting by playing AB as a Keeper. The reality is - it weakens the batting. AB averages around 20 to 25 when Keeping - which is about the same as Tsollys FC average. Dropping either Duminy or Rudolph who ave around or below 40 for Tsolly means you get a specialist keeper who'll score ABOUT the same runs as a W/Keeping AB would - & it then effectively means that AB's 50ish ave replaces a 40ish batsmen. AB did fluff several chances against England - fortunately they did not cost the Saffas in England! Imagine if AB MAc misses a stumping off Tahir with Clarke on 0, then Pup goes on to make 150? Weakens both batting & bowling!

  • Philip on October 31, 2012, 21:08 GMT

    Perhaps SA should take a punt on Tsolekile. De Villiers would probably make more with the bat unburdened with the gloves and Tsolekile would probably snaffle an important extra wicket or two. Yes, if I was in Kirsten's shoes I'd want to maximise the wicket-taking potential, especially given Australia's somewhat fragile batting, at least for the first Test - there's no point batting out a draw. It'd be tough on Rudolph though. He's deserved a second crack at it after being out for so long.

  • Jay on October 31, 2012, 18:22 GMT

    I think this will be a close series. Neither the Saffers nor the Aussies have any upper hand. A 1-1 draw is the likely scenario.

  • Jaydeep on October 31, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    If Pattinson expects to get on top of Smith psychologically like he did with Sehwag last season, he has a major reality check coming.

  • Dummy4 on October 31, 2012, 12:29 GMT

    If only Amla and AB fires Aus will bite the dust.

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