Cape Town – The Proteas are contemplating batting Vernon Philander at No 7 and going into the first Test against India in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday with five specialist bowlers.
Finding the right balance is key for the South Africans as they look to put up more of a fight than in 2015 when they went down 3-0 after having no answers to India’s spin-friendly surfaces.
India are currently the No 1-ranked side in Test cricket and are naturally dangerous in any conditions, but their spin bowling stocks make them incredibly difficult to beat at home.
Because of how badly the Proteas batsmen performed in 2015, there has been talk this week that the Proteas would go in with as much batting depth as possible.
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing on Monday suggested as much, and proposed a side that had Kagiso Rabada batting at No 11.
Houwing’s team read: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Zubayr Hamza, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada.
Rabada is incredibly handy with the bat and him coming in last is a sure sign of run-scoring capabilities low down in the order, but having listened to skipper Faf du Plessis addressing media on Tuesday, it sounds like the Proteas might be prepared to gamble on going in a batsman light.
That would, in all likelihood, see one of De Bruyn or Hamza left out while De Kock would move up to No 6 and Philander to No 7.
Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi – both pace options – or another spinner in Senuran Muthusamy would then come into the picture from a bowling point of view.
“That’s definitely one of the options,” Du Plessis said when asked if he was considering batting Philander at No 7 and picking an extra bowler.
“Bar the last time we were here, India has always been a place where in the first innings you can score runs and in the second innings it can get challenging.
“In that first innings, you need bowling resources. You need more than three or four bowlers, so we are definitely looking at a combination of having five bowling options in our team to try and maximise the chance of getting 20 wickets.
“Conditions will change through the tour and we will try and assess what the best bowling unit that can get you 20 minutes is. That’s what wins you Test matches.”
It may seem a gamble given the Proteas’ struggles with the willow four years ago, but Du Plessis believes that conditions will not be as radical this time around.
“As tough as last time was when we were here, I think the wickets then probably spun a little bit more than they will this series. It was really dry back then,” he said.
The Proteas also have different personnel tasked with scoring runs with AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and Stiaan van Zyl all no longer involved.
“Now we’ve got a very different looking unit and younger guys, so there is not a lot of baggage that comes with on tour,” Du Plessis said.
“They are very motivated and driven to do well in international cricket and this tour will be no different for them.”
Play on Wednesday starts at 06:00 (SA time).