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Seven batsmen give South Africa X-factor - Kirsten

With sufficient depth, Gary Kirsten believes South Africa are readying for an extended stay at the top of the rankings

Firdose Moonda

December 5, 2012

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Jacques Kallis congratulates Faf du Plessis on a century on debut, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 5th day, November 26, 2012
Faf du Plessis replaced Duminy and played an important part in South Africa saving the match in Adelaide and winning in Perth to clinch the series © Getty Images
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South Africa's lengthened batting line-up is the driving force behind their ascendance to the world No.1 title and the defence of it, according to coach Gary Kirsten. In their last two series, South Africa played seven frontline batsmen, which Kirsten said gave the team an "X-factor," other countries do not have.

"We can pick a No.7 batter and that has helped us in certain situations. We don't take that combination lightly. We know how important that is to our Test side in terms of the performances that we all want. There might come a time when we need to look at it another way but for now we have that," Kirsten said at the team's arrival in Cape Town.

After Mark Boucher was forced to retire with a severe eye injury ahead of the England tour, AB de Villiers was tasked with the responsibility of wicketkeeping. JP Duminy played as the seventh batsman in England and would have done the same in Australia had a ruptured Achilles' not cut his tour short.

Faf du Plessis replaced Duminy and played an important part in South Africa saving the match in Adelaide and winning in Perth to clinch the series. But, both Duminy and du Plessis have masked the under-performance of South Africa's No. 4. Jacques Rudolph and Dean Elgar have a combined average of 21.5 in that position over the last six Tests.

Rather than focus on the one chink in their armour, Kirsten praised the bench strength for being able to make the step up. "What's important for us is depth. We need to make sure if we have an injury, we have guys who can fill the gap," he said. "I'm encouraged by the players who have come through over the last year."

Since Kirsten took over as the national coach, South Africa have debuted six players and only Dean Elgar and Imran Tahir did not make significant marks on the international stage. Vernon Philander, Marchant de Lange, Rory Kleinveldt and du Plessis have all impressed in varying degrees. Under Kirsten's watch, Robin Peterson has made a successful comeback to Test cricket as well.

For that, Kirsten is impressed. "If we have Robbie there in place of Imran, that's a good thing. To have a person who can play if someone is not in form or gets injured. If we have a Rory in place of one of the seamers; that's also a good thing."

With sufficient depth, Kirsten believes South Africa are readying for an extended stay at the top of the rankings. "It's something that we've set our sights on. It's been an incredible year and it requires time for the players to reflect on that year. We wanted to become the No.1 team in the world and then to hold that position.

"We accomplished two very big targets this year in England and Australia, which is just massive and now we will definitely set our sights on how we can hold that position. It is important to us, this team wants to leave a legacy behind and we are excited by where we are at the moment."

South Africa played nine out of ten Test matches in 2012 away and the home fans have not had the opportunity to see them perform since they rose to the top. Now that the summer has arrived, that will be the chance. Over the course of the next three months, South Africa host New Zealand and Pakistan for five Test matches, three T20s and eight ODIs.

While the Tests will be an opportunity to show off their ranking, the limited-overs matches will form part of a building process. The next World T20 is two years away and the fifty over World Cup three. That will give Kirsten the room he needs to translate the achievements of the Test side to a campaign for ICC silverware.

"It takes time to transfer the success," he said. "In the Test side, we've got some great players and its not to say we can't achieve the same level of success in the one-day side but it takes time. We've got a really good team culture in the Test side and we've certainly tried to do whatever we can in the one-day component to build the same culture but I don't think it will come around as quickly."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by StaalBurgher on (December 6, 2012, 15:14 GMT)

Oh my, the genuises are out again today. 7 batters is not a "defensive" tactic. It is purely a quirk of AB being able to keep. It is the only change from when Boucher played. Or are you saying that 6 batters, Boucher and 4 bowlers was also a defensive tactic? Dear me. There are four bowlers; Steyn, Morkel, Philander and a spinner. Then we have Kallis (maybe), du Plessis and Elgar to help give the other bowlers a breather. Almost no team field 5 specialist bowlers. They MIGHT field 4 bowlers + 1 bowling all-rounder maybe but often it is a batting all-rounder. And the reason for that is because with 5 specialist bowlers there are usually not enough overs to do around. You end up under using a bowler thus wasting "capacity" for more runs on the board.

Posted by mahjut on (December 6, 2012, 15:09 GMT)

oh yeah Lilian ... just for the fun of arguement. Robin Peterson has a better SR than Ajmal ;) and his 32 ave in Tests is comparable enough with the likes of Swann, Lyon, Panesar, Ashwin, Ojha...

Posted by StaalBurgher on (December 6, 2012, 15:06 GMT)

There is no point in playing Tsolekile. The only reason he is in the squad is because the selectors want the real replacement, Quinton de Kock, to play in the domestic league to gain more experience. Playing Tsolekile drastically weakens the batting. So why on Earth would you field a weaker team? Do people just have an overwhelming desire to post something so they come up with suggestions like that? Very akin to the Smith-haters. They have no idea what they are talking about.

Posted by mahjut on (December 6, 2012, 15:00 GMT)

@LilianThomson ... Dale is very good at self preservation - there was nothing in the wicket for him in the first two matches and he looked lost but as soon as there was something his paced returned. I don't think that's an awful tactic though it is a bit negative ... Philander cannot become bad overnight just as he did not become good overnight - he worked hard at First Class level to make his way back into the team and he is still a very good operator who can bat a bit too. I think Tahir has clouded the slow bowling options - JP and RP will do a very tidy job giving the quicks a rest and maybe taking some in the process. i think PK will be another good test for SA to overcome - they downed the #1 team on their own turf [completely nullifying the, then, best spinner in the world] and beat an aus team who haven't lost a series under Clarke (for a fair few series) so i imagine they will cope with PK in a like manner - it won't be a walkover but it should be done ...

Posted by therealutopianindigent on (December 6, 2012, 13:50 GMT)

Jacques Rudolph single-handedly saved the second test in England and staved off a series defeat in New Zealand with a century. He also shared in various significant partnerships, even accellerating the run-rate when required, despite visibly struggling. He also played a solid role in the last Newlands test.

Yes, he has not performed well at all and it is logical for SA to try another no.6 but to say he did nothing, and to combine his runs with the 0/2 of Elgar, is ignorant.

His worst day was in Adelaide and who can say that hasn't happened to them too? FaF had to save that test all on his own, it wasn't just Rudolph who succumbed. Tests are about partnerships and go study the stats on that before so lightly writing off a player's contribution at this level.

Posted by Dale_Pain on (December 6, 2012, 12:43 GMT)

Of course SA hasn't really had 7 batters the last 2 tours.... The Elgar/Rudolph spot hasn't done any batting! Perhaps there is room for Tsolekile, with Faf at 6? Robin Peterson at 8 and Philander at 9 sounds pretty reasonable for batting depth..

Posted by   on (December 6, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

The question beckons to be asked, why was boucher still a feature even earlier this year. Boucher was a passenger for ten years kept in that position by his buddies kallis and smith. Bring in de lange for kallis and henry/kunn for smith make AB captain.

Posted by jabrankundi on (December 6, 2012, 12:21 GMT)

Why does everyone keep talking about Kallis' replacement? Kallis is not replacable. If replacing him was such a simple task, every team in the world would have a kallis of their own. When kallis is gone, SA will get used to life without him. Every team does.

Can you think of a replacement for Ponting? Read what their selector said today. They were shielding hughes(candidate for #3 spot) from SA because they did not want to shatter his confidence. Quiney was the lamb. Now imagine Kallis retiring today. There is AB, Amla, Duminy and DuPlessis. Do you understand now that SA are in a very good position to let Kallis retire? They are keeping 7 batsmen so that when Kallis retires, they will still have 6 bats and the option of an added bowler.

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 6, 2012, 9:57 GMT)

7 Batters and 4 specialist bowlers should easily beat NZ next month. But they then face a resurgent Pakistan, who have two excellent left-arm quicks plus Umar Gul and Ajmal. I suspect that SA will retain the 7 batters for that series. But with Steyn down on pace, Philander looking less-than-lethal in Australia and no decent spinner in sight, I don't think that 4 bowlers plus Kallis will be enough against Pakistan. Ultimately it is a defensive tactic.

Posted by Romanticstud on (December 6, 2012, 9:36 GMT)

If you take the top 5 ... Kallis 57, Smith 50, Amla 50, De Villiers 49, Petersen 40 ... You get 246 for 5 ... Now if you take the Bowlers Steyn 24, Morkel 30, Philander 18 ... If each takes 3 Wickets ... 216 for 9 ... Those stats would say why SA is No. 1 ... With Du Plessis, Duminy, at 6 and 7 and Peterson at 8 you could have a well rounded team ... Kallis also has the backup of 282 wickets that makes him a brilliant breakthrough bowler ... Duminy and Du Plessis can also turn their arm over with the old ball ... South Africa have an unfair advantage over most teams ... Kallis gives the batting/bowling extra depth ... De Villiers as keeper adds a batsman ... remember too that South Africa are going to lose Kallis at some stage ... But even with him gone that means 6 batsmen and the option of selecting an extra bowler ...

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