Tue, 22 Sep 2020

So finally ... is Quinny in his best Test slot?

27 Jan 2020, 04:13 GMT+10

Cape Town - Mounting uncertainty over the leadership, several of their labouring personnel, the balance of the team, the tactical approach ... you name it, these are uniquely foggy times for the Proteas Test side.

The situation was only amplified at the Wanderers on Sunday, where England turned further screws - on day three of the fourth and final Test - toward winning the match comfortably and sealing the series by a clear-cut 3-1 margin.

A mostly sun-baked day at the Bullring saw the tourists, with 248 all out in their second knock just before the scheduled close, ensure that South Africa would be chasing a gigantic target of 466 for the unlikeliest of victories and share of the summer spoils at 2-2.

On the minor plus side for the hard-pressed home nation, there will be time galore (six full sessions) available to them for the world record-requiring task in the fourth innings and, to their eternal credit, they never unravelled in the field on Sunday despite the already lopsided match situation against them.

"Their out-cricket held out today ... South Africa managed to stay sharp in difficult circumstances for them," observed commentator and former England captain Mike Atherton, approvingly.

Minus their swansong figure Vernon Philander for all but the nine deliveries he sent down before a hamstring problem cruelly ended his stellar bowling career at this level, the remaining members of the all-seam SA attack collectively stuck to their tasks with diligence for as long as the - understandably reasonably relaxed - England knock lasted.

A blistering catch by under-fire skipper Faf du Plessis to account for counterpart Joe Root as last play of the day simultaneously earned durable left-armer Beuran Hendricks, 29, his maiden five-wicket haul (5/64) on debut.

Yet all that couldn't paper over the stark fact that the Proteas had earlier bombed awfully yet again in a first innings, being bundled out for 183 (England declined the opportunity to enforce a humiliating, second consecutive Test follow-on on these foes) in conditions that really should have seen them post something around the 280-300 mark to keep them that fraction more realistically in the tussle.

It would have been a considerably more red-faced scenario, too, but for a fighting eighth-wicket partnership of 79 between Quinton de Kock and Dwaine Pretorius.

De Kock was second-last man out, trying to turn over the strike for himself at the end of an over as reliable partners ran low, for 76 - a better showing by at least 50 runs than any other member of the brittle frontline batting.

As has been the case for most of the series (he now sports 341 runs, the most by any batsman from either side, at 48.71) the attacking batsman/wicketkeeper looked the Proteas' most assured and polished stroke-player by a country mile against the pretty formidable English attack.

Significantly, the team's brains trust had responded to a mounting clamour by finding a spot for the left-hander within the top five, which has increasingly seemed a must-do, by placing him at No 5 itself - the highest he has taken guard in the series thus far.

Debate has raged for several years already about where exactly De Kock best serves the cause in the Test format, and he has sampled every slot between opener and No 8, somewhere along the line, in his now 47-cap career.

He has traditionally excelled as a No 7 "finisher", but the markedly decreasing stock of proven quality in the Proteas' top five - meaning that SA innings are too often in tatters already when he comes in at six or seven - has brought about a situation where his skills are clearly needed as an assertive presence a notch or two higher than the prior norm.

Frankly, No 5 seems a reasonably happy medium, in many senses, as it is not unreasonable to expect him to still don the 'keeping gloves from that berth in the five-day landscape (any higher and the fatigue factor might, arguably, become too much of a complicator if he kept up that dual responsibility).

A gentle reminder that he is still South Africa's premier wicketkeeper, after all, came when it was revealed - as he took a fairly routine catch to dismiss Ollie Pope on Sunday - that he had become the second gloveman after current head coach Mark Boucher to reach 200 dismissals (189 catches, 11 stumpings) for the national team.

De Kock getting runs at No 5 ... what's not to like about it?

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