Praising things is over-rated. It’s a well known fact that criticising things is much more fun, especially in the modern era where trolling people on the internet seems to be considered a genuine skill, worthy of a place on one’s CV. Here at 51allout we enjoy nothing more than giving something a right slating, be it rubbish computer games, rubbish legspinners or rubbish World T20 campaigns. And here we’re going to add another rubbish thing to that list: Jean-Paul Duminy.
Duminy’s Achilles injury, suffered in the warmdown at the end of the first day’s play at the Gabba last week, means that he’ll be out of cricket for up to six months. While this won’t be much fun for the man himself, it’s hard for everyone at 51allout to see this as being anything other than serendipitous for South Africa. And the main reason for this is that the concept of having a deliberately chosen number seven batsman is a ridiculous one, especially in a side containing the likes of Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla.
We should probably make it clear that, like combining tonic water… with some ice… and er, a segment of lemon…. and topping it up with some Gordon’s Gin, a a wicketkeeper-batsman or allrounder at number seven makes a lot of sense. Matt Prior and Adam Gilchrist were born to come in at number seven, usually with the sole aim of smashing the ball around a bit, scoring quick runs and making the most of the platform laid by the proper batsmen. But when it’s a number seven picked, as in South Africa’s case, because the top six isn’t quite trusted to do the job, we start to get really angry really quickly. This is probably mostly down to painful memories of England regularly picking Graeme Hick to bat at number seven, with inevitably unsuccessful results.
In England’s defence, back in those days their batting was a shambles, with the team regularly being bowled out for less than 200. Alec Stewart was a perfectly decent top order player, meaning that the wicketkeeping position wasn’t up for debate, hence England had an option at number seven. By choosing the extra batsman over a fifth bowler, they (in theory) were guarding against the collapses that regularly plagued the side. Of course, Hick was mostly shit and they collapsed anyway.
South Africa are in a very different position. Of their top five, Smith, Amla and De Villiers all average around 50 with Kallis closer to 60. As top orders go, they don’t come much better. And yet the number six spot is still something of a problem area. Rudolph, the current occupant, averages just 36 while Duminy averages 37; from this we can see what South Africa are actually trying to do: make up for the rubbishness of their number six batsmen by having two of them and hedging their bets.
In the meantime AB de Villiers, a man with a chronic back problem, finds himself behind the stumps, sometimes for days at a time. It’s not hard to see where the next problem is going to come from. South Africa’s short-termism will surely come back to bite them at some point, forcing them to bed in a new keeper at the same time as significantly weakening their top order batting. It’s clear, to us at least, that they should replace Duminy with the wicketkeeper with the almost unspellable name, Thami Tsolekile. This will give them the chance to assess whether he’s really now up to Test standard and give De Villiers the opportunity to focus on his batting, something he clearly hasn’t been able to do in recent months. A 100% focused De Villiers is a wonderful player, far better than Duminy or Rudolph could ever hope to be. Thus by bringing Tsolekile in, it could easily be argued that South Africa would actually be strengthening their overall batting lineup.
There certainly aren’t any issues around balancing the bowling attack. Steyn, Morkel and Philander all pick themselves, plus Kallis is the allrounder. That leaves one space for a spinner who, in the absence of any other options, should be Imran Tahir. We know he’s far, far from perfect, but he’s the variety the attack needs, especially in the absence of Duminy’s part-time off-spin.
And there we are: a genuinely balanced South African side. So why is there almost no chance of that side turning out in Adelaide?
There are a few things that we just don’t like to talk about at 51allout. The music of Robbie Williams is one of them, while issues of racial segregation and quotas are another. As far as racism goes, all we know that it’s bad and should definitely be kicked out of sport, unless it’s your club captain that does it and you can’t afford to get rid of him, in which case simply ignoring the issue is perfectly acceptable. Fridge-winning fast bowler Makhaya Ntini had a fairly clear view on the non-selection of Tsolekile; we’ll let you read that article and make up your own mind.
A less controversial reason is a combination of conservatism and pragmatism. When Mark Boucher was suddenly ruled out of the Test series in England, de Villiers was the logical choice (being the only reserve keeper in the squad to begin with). South Africa’s performance in the first game made changes unnecessary and everything went from there. However, that was an interim measure that appears to have been adopted as a long term strategy. Rather than pick a new wicketkeeper and move on from the Boucher era (epoch might be a more appropriate description given its duration), South Africa seem instead to be clinging to the past.
The most likely replacement for the second Test will be Faf du Plessis, a batsman who isn’t quite good enough for the top level (as a First Class average of 38 testifies) but bowls some useful part time spin. It’s hardly a revolutionary step forward. To paraphrase The Who’s rather splendid Won’t Get Fooled Again, it’s a case of ‘meet the new part-time spinner/specialist number seven batsman, the same as the old part-time spinner/specialist number seven batsman’. Admittedly that doesn’t make a very catchy refrain but, on the other hand, we’ve never been cautioned by the police for downloading obscene child-based material from the internet and placed on the sex offenders register. We’ll let you decide which is worse.