SA top order struggles to shake off India rust

Temba Bavuma powers the ball through the leg side AFP

South Africa's Test squad returned home from India ten days ago, but a glance at the scorecards from the opening day of the Sunfoil Series, their domestic first-class competition, seems to suggest that most of the players have not yet recovered. Five of South Africa's top seven were in action, with only Temba Bavuma positing a significant score in preparation for the four-match Test series against England, starting with the Boxing Day Test in Durban.

Bavuma is unbeaten on 52 for Lions against Dolphins, while Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy were all dismissed for scores fewer than 35.

Elgar was the first to be dismissed, caught in the slips for a second-ball duck in Centurion, where he was the only Test batsman playing for the Titans against the Warriors. Faf du Plessis, despite his lack of runs in India, and AB de Villiers were not available for the game.

Twenty-one minutes after Elgar's dismissal, in Cape Town, van Zyl missed a straight ball from Knights' bowler Dillon de Preez and was bowled. Van Zyl had a start, but failed to build on it, falling for 15 - his third double-digit score in six innings.

On a seaming Newlands pitch, which posed threat to the batsmen upfront, Amla was the next to go. He lasted 50 minutes and faced 45 balls before allrounder Shadley van Schalkwyk had the batsman caught behind. The South Africa Test captain has passed 50 only once in his last 18 innings across formats, which is a worrying sign.

Duminy, aother senior player, is also stuck in a rut. He had batted for 90 minutes and made 35 before he was trapped lbw by a a van Schalkwyk delivery that kept low. Duminy has now gone 11 innings without a fifty in any format.

Bavuma, who impressed in the Delhi Test, showed good staying power in Johannesburg. He was pushed down to his regular No.5 spot in the middle order but began with the same caution he had showed in Delhi. His first 15 balls yielded only one run and then he brought out the cover-drive and pull. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Bavuma's coach Geoffrey Toyana described the innings as "mature, calm under pressure and executed with superb control."

There were other batsmen who caught the eye as well. Heino Kuhn, the Titans wicketkeeper-batsman, was the day's top-scorer with 141 off 226 balls. After Elgar was removed for a duck, Kuhn, aided by Farhaan Behardien, batted for most of the day. While Kuhn was dismissed by Colin Ingram, Behardien remained unbeaten on 78, including seven fours.

Rilee Rossouw, the reserve batsman in the South Africa squad, did not play in this round as he will be turning up with the A team that will play England in Pietermaritzburg, beginning Sunday. Dane Vilas, who has been left out of the Test series, will captain the side and keep wicket, while Quinton de Kock also finds a place in the team.

England, meanwhile, have a few batting issues of their own. They posted 470 in the first innings against a young South African Invitation XI in a three-day fixture in Potchefstroom, but they were bundled out for 190 in the second dig. Titans' bowler Junior Dala claimed five wickets while Dolphins' quick Andile Phehlukwayo, who was excellent in the death overs in the recently completed twenty-over competition, took three wickets.