If only Proteas' opening pair could stand their ground
A STEADIER opening stand is among the few improvements SA could make going into the second Test against England at Headingley in Leeds on Thursday.
But they will be loath to tamper with their juggernaut of a combination and it remains unclear who could fill what is not yet a vacancy.
Of the 34 South African wickets that have fallen on tour, just 10 have not been a result of catches by the wicketkeeper or bowler, or by being trapped leg-before or bowled - dismissals that are indicative of batsmen being undone when the ball moves off the straight.
The newer the ball and the fresher the bowlers, the more likely they are to fall victim to swing or seam movement.
That helps explain why SA's highest stand for the first wicket has been the 29 runs that Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen shared against Kent in Canterbury. With one hand on the No1 world ranking following their crushing innings victory in the first Test at the Oval in London last week, the Proteas have earned the right to be supremely confident.
But they would be even more securely in command if their opening pair could stay together longer and more profitably to unlock the door to big totals.
The problem with the openers may seem to be Petersen, who has scored 42 runs in four trips to the crease and whose eight-ball duck at The Oval stood in stark relief to the mighty innings posted by Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis.
Smith himself has failed twice in his three innings. However, the exception, his impressive 131 in the first Test, outshines his other performances. For all his troubles, Petersen has retained the confidence of the management.
"I find him a tough character mentally," bowling coach Allan Donald said at the weekend.
"He knows what's expected of him and he will find a way to make it work. We're not concerned about him and neither is he. He's not far away from putting it all together."
Besides, changes are seldom made to emphatically victorious Test XIs. "Whether or not some of us are in good or bad form we played really well as a team (at the Oval) and we would hate to unsettle the vibe we had," AB de Villiers said.
If a change is contemplated, Jacques Rudolph seems a logical choice to partner Smith.
But his scores of five and seven in his first two innings as an opener on this tour did not inspire confidence. Far better, surely, to leave him at number six, at least on the strength of the 50 he scored against Kent batting in that position.
However, Rudolph showed stickability during his unbeaten 28 off 47 balls during the weekend in the second innings of the drawn two-day match against Worcestershire at New Road, where he returned to the top of the order. If he is promoted back up the order, who would take guard at No6?
JP Duminy looms as the apparent answer to that question, but his scores of 53, 34, five and two batting anywhere from numbers three to seven on this tour means the jury has yet to deliver that verdict.
It's a complex riddle but as long as SA dominate England there is no need to solve it.
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