England in South Africa 2015-16 December 22, 2015

Klusener to tutor South Africa's lower order

In a curious response to rectifying batting woes which have stretched from their lean run in India to the first round of domestic first-class matches, South Africa are focusing on the other end of equation. The tail, instead of the top seven, are being put through their paces ahead of the four-Test series against England.

Lance Klusener, who scored two of his four Test hundreds batting at No. 7 and No. 9 (the other two came when he was promoted to No.6) - including the career-best 174 against England at Port Elizabeth in 1999 - and currently coaches one of South Africa's franchise, the Durban-based Dolphins, added such value lower down the order that he has been roped in to work with the lower order ahead of the first Test at his home ground Kingsmead.

"We see our lower order as being potentially an area we need to work on. I don't think we are blessed with the all-rounders of the past. We used to have Klusener batting at No.8, Pollock at No.9 and Nicky Boje at No.10. Now, our tail is a little bit exposed," Russell Domingo, South Africa's coach said. "His particular role will be to work with our lower order batters and also to give our lower order a sense of purpose and a sense of direction."

But what of the actual batsmen? Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy, none of whom posted more than 35 in the domestic fixtures that ended at the weekend and Faf du Plessis, who has as out of form but did not even play in those matches.

When asked about the concerns that none of them have regained the confidence lost in the cracks of India's spinner-friendly surfaces, Domingo was not as worried as you might expect a coach in his position to be and even assured the current crop their places are safe.

"We've got some serious quality in our batting line-up. We know it's all about runs and putting in big performances but we know it's one big score away, one good start, or one dropped catch and somebody can get a bit of luck and a bit of momentum going and everything will click back into place," he said. "We are very confident that the group we've got are the best players in the country."

Effectively, Domingo closed the door on fringe players for now. "We sort of know who the peripheral players are but consistency is the most important thing. A hundred now and then low scores for seven or eight games is not what's required to play international cricket; you really need to bang the door down. Averages of 35 or 27 or 32 are not going to guarantee you any better performances than what we've got from our current group."

That means Stephen Cook, who led the first-class runs last season and is a specialist opening batsman, and Heino Kuhn, who scored a big hundred at the weekend and is both an opening batsman and a wicketkeeper, will have to keep knocking while South Africa wait to see if the Stiaan van Zyl, AB de Villiers and Temba Bavuma experiments work.

Van Zyl, who is a regular No.3, will open the batting despite appearing out of his depth in India and de Villiers will keep wicket to make room for Bavuma, who opened the batting with more success than van Zyl, to bat in the middle order. The reasoning is that Bavuma, who stands at 5'3", will not be risked up the order at home, where the ball bounces higher and van Zyl must be given a chance to see what he can do at home after only opening in the subcontinent.

"We are very happy with Temba's progress, he is very mature young cricketer. He is only 25 but he goes about his business like he has been playing for a long time. And he is very good technically," Domingo said. "He will slot back into the middle order for this Test match because that is where he is most suited. These conditions with the extra bounce with his stature might be a little tricky for him.

"He cut his teeth at domestic level and at the A side in the middle order so if he wants to open, we will have to play him in that positions at those levels like we did with Stiaan van Zyl. We got him to open the batting for half a season in franchise cricket and he opened the batting for South Africa A in India so it's only fair to the player to see what he can do."

What makes South Africa's situation more tricky is that if van Zyl does not succeed, it puts extra pressure on the captain, Amla, who is facing his toughest challenge as a leader during the leanest period since his made his debut a decade ago. Again, Domingo was confidant Amla's malaise could be overcome.

"Over the last six or seven years, Hashim's record is better than most cricketers in the world. I know he is so close to a big score. He is hitting the ball really well, his positions are good, he is training very hard. I wouldn't be surprised if Hashim has a good series against England."

If that all sounds a little too simplified, that's because that is exactly what Domingo intends, as he encourages his team to forget the failing in India and distil the game down to its fundamentals to try and get back on track.

"As far as I am concerned, I want to write India off. It was a very tough tour for us and we've got to move on from it," he said. "When sides are under a bit of pressure or not playing as well as you can, do the basics right. That's going to be the most important thing. We can't be too funky, we can't be too clever, we can't be too innovative." But they can hope their lower-order is.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments