South Africa v Bangladesh 2017-18 September 27, 2017

A checklist for South Africa's batting unit

With AB de Villiers' return to the Test team a likelihood in the upcoming season, Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn may find themselves most vulnerable to losing a spot, even as Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis grapple with form

Batting at No. 4 against Bangladesh is an opportunity for Temba Bavuma to convert his starts to a three-figure score © Getty Images

South Africa will "draw a line in the sand" after the England series and start their new summer afresh, in the comfort of home conditions that they hope will bring runs. After only scoring one century between them in four Tests in England - courtesy Dean Elgar, and despite requesting pitches with pace and bounce especially against subcontinental opposition, Faf du Plessis is confident the quality in the line-up will prove their worth against Bangladesh.

They have to. By the time the next opposition arrive, one of the members of the line-up may be told to make way because AB de Villiers is expected to return to Test cricket. In mid-October, de Villiers will make himself available for selection across all formats, which could see him back as early as the four-day day-night match against Zimbabwe.

Most would expect de Villiers to walk straight back into the side but du Plessis has indicated that anyone who makes a strong enough case to suggest otherwise will have to be heard.

"AB comes with a real backing of numbers behind him. In an ideal world, you want to give players the opportunity they deserve in the current setup. We're going to have a make a decision when the time comes," du Plessis said. "For now, it's difficult to say to a player that he's only going to play two Tests and then AB is coming back but there is that expectation. AB understands that if guys are playing well and he doesn't get an opportunity, that's the way it goes."

Both the seniors and newcomers in the batting unit have something at stake in the upcoming season. Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn's positions appear to be the most vulnerable, while the seniors, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, will look to regain form and affirm their leadership with the bat.

Temba Bavuma

What he's done so far:
Since his debut in late 2014, Bavuma has played 24 Tests, batted everywhere from No.2 to No.7 and scored eight half-centuries. Even when left with the lower order, he has developed a knack for digging South Africa out of trouble and his temperament has recently earned him a promotion to No.4, de Villiers' old spot. Du Plessis confirmed Bavuma will bat there for the Bangladesh series.

What he needs to do:
Convert. It's as simple or as tricky as that for Bavuma, who has yet to add to the one international century he scored in January 2016. A possible reason for the lack of three-figure scores is that Bavuma often ran out of partners, but batting higher up should nullify that. Instead, he will need to focus on scoring slightly quicker, because often he gets bogged down and then gets out.

Theunis de Bruyn needs to turn his reticence into runs © Getty Images

Theunis de Bruyn

What he has done so far:
With just three Tests and a top score of 48, de Bruyn's international career is still in embryonic stage, so it is the first-class statistics that speak to his pedigree. He averages 46.66 and has established himself as one of the top performers on the domestic scene, balancing captaincy of the Knights franchise and leading from the front with the bat. His 195 in the opening round of first-class matches last week was a reminder of his class.

What he needs to do:
Get a chance and take it. The first part of that is not in de Bruyn's control and will depend on whether South Africa opt for seven batsmen or six, an allrounder, three quicks and a spinner. If the surfaces prove fairly tough for batting, there's a good chance de Bruyn may get a look-in as insurance, in case the top order struggle. But then he has to make something of his opportunity. The little we have seen of de Bruyn at international level has been described as vastly different from the player he really is. He needs to turn his reticence into runs.

Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis have both grappled with a dip in form recently © Getty Images

Hashim Amla

What he has done so far:
A stupid question, unless posed the other way: What hasn't he done? The holder of South Africa's highest individual score in Test cricket should not even be part of this piece but Amla's recent form has bordered on inconsistent. He has not scored a hundred since his 100th Test in January and has at times appeared uncertain about his footwork or simply, in a rush. Amla found form towards the end of the England series and then in the first-class fixture last week, with 56 and 189, so perhaps he is back to his best.

What he needs to do:
Decide how much longer he wants to play, for a start. There has been some talk about Amla's future, led chiefly by a report in a local paper that suggested a Kolpak deal could be on the cards. Amla has yet to comment on the report but if he chooses that option, it may be understandable. The UK is a good place to end a distinguished career such as his, though South Africans will hope he's not headed there for a while yet. Then there is the issue of what Amla needs done for him. More runs from the opening pair will make Amla more comfortable, especially because he has too often had to come in with the ball less than 10 overs old.

Faf du Plessis

What he has done so far:
Proven himself to be the best leader on the South African circuit. Du Plessis' elevation to all-format captain is confirmation of his value to the country and the Test outfit would be particularly lost without him. Du Plessis oversaw South Africa's successful season last summer, when they beat New Zealand home and away, Australia away and Sri Lanka at home and he has put a unit that appeared directionless on a clear path.

What he needs to do:
Score big runs. In his 14 matches as captain, du Plessis has only scored two centuries, the last one in Adelaide in November last year. Du Plessis' move down to No.5 has been interpreted by some as a way for him to "hide" himself but he has denied that and accepted he needs to step up. Du Plessis' early impressions on the international scene were of someone who could bat time and absorb pressure. He needs to find those qualities again. Although he is unlikely to be questioned over his place as captain, he knows that he needs to affirm his leadership with bat, as much as with talk.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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