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South Africa's bowlers may need to help themselves to have enough runs

"Partnerships are key for us and the bowlers know their role...with top-order batters," coach Malibongwe Maketa said

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
South Africa will need to be greater than the sum of their batting parts if they are to challenge Australia across the three-Test series which could have a huge bearing on who reaches the World Test Championship final in June.
While there is an expectation that the visitors will be able to go toe-to-toe with their pace attack - albeit one light on experience in Australia - they will need every run they can muster from what looks a fragile order leaning heavily on Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma, the latter with concerns over a niggling elbow injury and off the back of a T20 World Cup where he faced huge scrutiny.
South Africa's batting problems are not new. On the tour of England earlier this year, where they went 1-0 up before losing 2-1, they managed just one half-century in the three games. Since 2019, only West Indies and Ireland have a lower collective batting average and only Ireland, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe have made few centuries.
"If you look the way we've played in the past, our bowlers have allowed us to get into good positions by getting 350-360," interim coach Malibongwe Maketa said. "So from that point of view partnerships are key for us and the bowlers know their role...with top-order batters and that has worked well for us."
The victory against England at Lord's is a model of what Maketa was referring to. On that occasion Keshav Maharaj (41 at No. 8) and Anrich Nortje (28 not out at No. 10) made important runs to stretch South Africa's lead. Maharaj is averaging a very handy 22.75 this year in Tests.
But it's the player who batted at No. 6 that day, Marco Jansen, and made 48 who is looming as the big hope to offer balance to the side. If South Africa are to play five frontline bowlers at the Gabba - and Maketa's hint was that would be the route - he will likely have to take on a role that is probably a little much at the moment, but if they want to hit Australia with their big four quicks and have Maharaj in the XI it looks like the only way.
"We are growing him in terms of his all-round ability and he has the ability to do something special with the bat," Maketa said. "From our point of view he's a work in progress and we know he could and he is capable of being part of at least two fifty partnerships.
"We are going to have to back our batters to score the runs and our bowlers to take the wickets."
And with a Test bowling average of 18.59 it would appear very difficult not to play Jansen for his bowling, although South Africa did find a way to do that against England at Old Trafford when they opted for two spinners.
"It's been a sharp rise," Maketa said. "We know for a fact that people around the world have taken note and now coming up in this series it will be a different challenge, people have seen enough of him to come up with different plans. But when it comes to his performances we are very pleased because he gives us variety we need for our attack. In terms of pace and height and the areas he hits, it sets him apart in terms of a lot of other left armers."
Kagiso Rabada is the only one of South Africa's quicks with Test experience in Australia - he was their leading wicket-taker with 15 at 22.40 in 2016-17 - and he will have an important mentoring role to play.
"He's still young, but in terms of experience and having been here before it's something that a lot of the other bowlers are using to lean on him for information," Maketa said. "We've been quite clear in terms of lengths we want to hit, if you look at the Wanderers it offers the same, more or less, where you can get carried away with the sexy bounce and be ineffective so we've been working hard on making sure we hit the fuller length and making the batter play."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo