There has been a great amount of debate over the past week or so on where Proteas captain, Faf du Plessis should bat in the Test side.
His own personal preference is to bat at 5, because he says:
The reason why I initially moved to No. 5 was probably because I was more equipped to play both roles, in the middle and in the beginning. When you are batting with the tail, I can take the game on a bit, similar to Quinton [de Kock]. That’s the reason for it – to try and split up your experience and your younger players up.
He has been backed up by opener, Dean Elgar, who says:
It’s also nice to have a guy like Faf at No. 5 because if you are three down, for instance, we can get ourselves into a building position
That seems counter-intuitive. They are expecting to always be three down for not many and need a safety blanket for that, with Faf coming in at 5. Why don’t they just put their best batsman at 3 or 4, and reduce the likelihood of him needing to rescue the side with being 3 down early?
Temba Bavuma has also been struggling in his promoted position of 4, averaging just over 22 with the bat in this position.
Where Bavuma was shining in the Proteas side, where he was scoring runs was when he was batting lower down the order, at 5, where he averages a significantly higher 38.4 and 6, where he averages 33.6.
Going by the argument of wanting Faf to bat lower down the order to be better equipped to stabilize the side after an early collapse, Bavuma has proven time and time again that he is perfectly capable of taking on this role.
I think back to the recently completed Ashes series, where England captain Joe Root, who typically likes to bat at 4, batted one place higher for the good of the team. He led from the front.
That is what I expect from a captain.
In tough foreign conditions such as what you find in India, it is up to the experienced and senior players to take the initiative and lead by example. I completely understand wanting to allow players like Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn the opportunity to prove themselves in the toughest batting positions, but how much damage is that doing to their game?
When they have the experience of Faf, who has a great technique against spin, it seems almost wasteful that he is batting as low as 5, and needing to consolidate and rebuild, when he can be taking the initiative and rather setting a platform that the rest of the team that work with.
South Africa have a number of quality batsmen, they just need to bat where they can perform their best and at the moment, that’s not where a number of players are batting.
For now though, the captain needs to lead by example and show his team, his opponents and everyone else that he is doing what is best for his team.
The second Test against India starts on Thursday morning at 6am SA time, with the toss at 5:30am.