“Are we always relying on AB?” After watching the ODI series against New Zealand, this was the one question that really ran in circuits in my mind when video footage showed the Proteas lifting that series trophy after the deciding game. Elation coming through on my face, and the players, at another series win. This win felt more special: an actual challenge, with respect to Sri Lanka, that gave fans a feeling that this tour would be one filled with blood-pressure inducing, heart attack enduring nerves and excitement of what was to come. That’s what I got, at least, and other fans did too. But when I looked at the score cards of each of the five games, and remembering the few minutes I actually got to watch the matches, this was the question that sprung up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad AB came through when we needed him to, but it was nearly like it was expected that he is to come through, as he did majority of the time, to save us and not bat freely. Anyone would be so happy to have him in their starting line-up, and when thinking of your dream team in world cricket, he’s one of the first names to be put down. Of course, many people who enjoy watching AB play were gutted when he was out for a couple of months because of his elbow injury. Naturally, articles were written, stating that we should be very worried now that he was out injured and recovery. But was that thought not a cause for concern in the first place?
Let me put it like this: I think that the team may have been relying on AB more when there is a slight batting collapse than having to put up an actual score in recent times. Now that’s okay, but how often has a middle order collapse happened, especially in the recent ODI series against New Zealand? There were slight order collapses in all five games which had AB trying to save the innings with a lower order batsman in either Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Dwaine Pretorius or Wayne Parnell. It’s almost as if sometimes the top order guys, excluding AB and Faf, are sure that if they go out, AB will save the innings. And if not AB, then Morris or Phehlukwayo. AB’s known for that, great, but it can’t happen all the time. Why always rely on one batsman and make things harder for yourself when this could have been avoided if you just took your time and played the right shots?
I want to touch on the batting averages of Miller, Behardien, Duminy and Faf. During the ODI series against Australia last September/October, AB was not available meaning Faf was the stand in captain, also meaning the top six had to work harder. Not really scrutinising Faf, but he is still worth mentioning as he maintained his average from 50.00 then to 44.75 recently. Duminy averaged 41.80 in September, last month he averaged 15.80. For someone who hardly plays great international knocks, Behardien averaged 30.00 last year and in the past series averaged 0 (he played one match and went out for a golden duck). Even though Miller saved SA in the third ODI last year, he averaged 96.50 and then recently went on to average 25.66. In the recently concluded stint, these are the guys that should have stepped up to keeping the scoreboard ticking even when your top-order fails. Obviously with higher averages like this against Australia, the guys could (and should) be playing like this all the time right?
It’s almost like when AB is in the squad, it’s almost fair game to slack off a little bit. I am not saying that he only does well when the demise of his fellow batsmen’s wickets occur, but that they have the power and batting ability to chase down a total quicker with everyone putting in an effort, even if you have one batman go out for a single digit score. They have the ability to score a massive number of runs if batting first. And if AB keeps saying that we are ready for Champions Trophy soon, people are going to believe that based on win/loss results rather than scorecards.
Irrespective of the number of runs put up on the board, it is always great to have all-rounders and bowlers that can bat decently or score a blitz half-century. My only concern is when we have to rely on them to take the team home when the top four or six should have done that earlier in the innings. A similar instance was in the first ODI where Phehlukwayo partnered AB to win that game with one ball remaining, and in the process have Phehlukwayo score two fantastic sixes in the last two overs. Now my problem is that when we lost the second ODI, Pretorius and Phehlukwayo were batting to try to save the game. Pretorius was later bowled after achieving his maiden 50, leaving Phehlukwayo to bat with Tahir. He got a lot of heat from fans for not repeating his heroics from the previous game, but that actually was not his job; the top six should have stepped up.
So to conclude, I do think that we rely on AB’s brilliance to an extent. Our openers in Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla do a great job at building pressure onto the bowlers with aggressive batting and partnerships that build a foundation at times. However, when openers go out, Faf comes in to bat and does relatively well, and then AB comes on and he bats fantastically. Then it’s from Duminy until, depending on who is in the squad, Parnell or Morris that not many people see batting because of that chunk in the line-up not occupying the crease. If SA want a shot at winning the Champions Trophy, this is another issue that needs to be sorted out. Let’s also hope that these problems do not go on into the test series against New Zealand just because AB is not there. This will be a real test, excuse the pun, to see if the middle-order can cope without him like they did against Australia in their home ground.