South Africa batsman Stiaan van Zyl has stated that he would like to return to the middle order of the Test side, and not as an opening batsman. Van Zyl opened the batting in Tests against India and England last season, but was dropped from the side in both series after poor results. He went back to the domestic circuit for his franchise, Cape Cobras, and batted at more familiar positions - Nos. 3 and 4 - regaining some of his form.
"I don't think I'll give opening a go again. If opening is the only place then I'll give it a go, but if I have a choice then I'll go in the middle order," van Zyl told ESPNcricinfo in Mumbai, where he is participating in a week-long spin camp held by Cricket South Africa. "I'm normally a No. 3 batter but the only opportunity was for me to open when Alviro [Petersen] retired. So I'm a No. 3 and I gave it a go. It didn't work so well, there's not a lot of difference between opening and No. 3. But I'll put the opening aside now and try to focus to get into the middle order. If they pick me then I'd like to bat in the middle order.
"No. 6 is a good spot, somewhere there, if there's a gap. But we'll see what happens because there are still good players there in the Test side. Maybe there's some players that don't want to play Test cricket anymore so that could open things. So I'm looking to bat in the middle order if I get an opportunity."
Van Zyl will not find it easy to slot into South Africa's current middle order. The openers are followed by Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, and there are two takers for the No. 6 slot in Temba Bavuma and JP Duminy. Bavuma, incidentally, had replaced van Zyl as an opener on the India tour last year, after the latter failed in the first three Tests of the four-match series. Van Zyl managed a total of 56 runs at an average of 11.20, and was dismissed by offspinner R Ashwin in all five innings.
"It was quite a testing series in India, we played on spinning wickets," he said. "We weren't quite used to it. Maybe if I had this camp earlier, it would have been better. The spinners didn't give us a lot of freebies so that made it quite difficult for us to score. What they did well was they kept you on one side, and then one ball would have your number."
He returned as an opener for the home Tests against England in December and January but started with a duck in the first Test Durban and scored 69 runs in the next four innings. He was dropped for the final Test in Centurion and replaced by Stephen Cook, who scored a century on debut. While it was spin that troubled van Zyl in India, against England, it was primarily his off-stump judgement.
"Coming from India, my confidence was low," van Zyl said. "England have a good attack and the first game in Durban I got a duck and 35 or something. They're known for their seamers and Stuart Broad was on song. I didn't have a great series and I've got to knuckle down again…like with the A side, probably go to Australia. If I get picked there, then maybe get a few runs and maybe have my name back again for the national side."
Once dropped, van Zyl played List A and first-class matches for Cape Cobras before heading to the Netherlands during the South African winter. He averaged 47.75 in five List A matches in the Momentum One Day Cup, but his returns in the five first-class matches in the Sunfoil Series were much lower. In nine innings, he scored 158 with a high score of 54 and an average of under 20.
Now in India for the spin camp, van Zyl said he had been working on a few technical aspects to tackle spin better, especially in the subcontinent.
"I think I've managed to pick two key points, I've tried them and I'm very pleased with that," he said. "I need to take them further in my batting and [need] to knuckle my basics down and make it a habit.
"I tend to be very upright in my stance. I need to keep my knees more bent, stay closer to the ground, and have quick feet to get into good positions quicker. That allows you to have more options while playing spin. [The second thing is] what guard to take when the ball is spinning, what guard when the ball is new and not spinning. Small stuff like that. It's mostly to believe that you can play spin and in India.
"Staying slightly lower against seamers, you get room to hit the ball. If the ball pops up then, you've got room to adjust but if you're just upright there's no room. When you're a bit lower, you can pick the lengths slightly quicker.
Van Zyl will head back to the Netherlands from India to continue representing the Dosti Cricket Club in Amsterdam.