The beleaguered Proteas batsmen are determined to grasp the initiative and back up their bowlers to stay alive in the series when the second Test against Australia starts at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day.
In a recurring theme for the current South African side, Australia could only score 218 and 35/4 in the first Test on the enigmatic Gabba pitch, but that was still enough to secure an easy victory as the Proteas could only muster 152 and 99 in their two innings.
Now, in the showpiece event of the Australian cricketing summer, with an expected crowd of 65 000 on the opening day, the Proteas batsmen are under the spotlight, their ability to stand up to one of the best attacks in cricket being questioned.
“We’re very excited, a Boxing Day Test at the MCG is what dreams are made of,” batting coach Justin Sammons said on Friday. “It’s a special challenge and we must just embrace it.
“Our bowling unit has been unbelievable in the World Test Championship and our batsmen really want to pull their weight and contribute. We’ve got to keep the belief and we do have it.
“We’re up against one of the best attacks in the game, so we’ve got to be strong in defence, get into good positions, and if there are opportunities to attack and score, then we’ve got to take them.
“We know we didn’t bat to our potential in Brisbane, but the guys are determined to get it right and I’m confident we will. We really need to be on our game,” Sammons said.
Although the MCG pitch is not as green as the Gabba monstrosity was, Sammons said it is softer and South Africa’s bowlers will surely be hoping it gets firmer in the couple of days remaining before the crucial Test begins.
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But the attack could be reduced in terms of personnel as South Africa desperately try to bolster their batting, perhaps by including Theunis de Bruyn in a seven-strong batting line-up. “Theunis is looking really good in the nets, coming off a century at home just before the tour. He’s always up for a challenge and his biggest attribute is the positive energy he will bring,” Sammons said.
Whatever the starting XI that coach Malibongwe Maketa, captain Dean Elgar and convenor of selectors Victor Mpitsang settle upon, the Proteas need to harden up mentally in order to push back the confident Aussies.
“The work we’re doing is mostly in the mental space. The players need to have clear game-plans, commit to them and be decisive. Obviously they are always touching up on a couple of technical issues too, so they can trust their games,” Sammons said.
“But we have played our best cricket when we have been behind and we’ll take confidence from that. Against India and New Zealand at the start of the year, we came back strongly.
“So we are not afraid, we are up for the challenge and we know we have done it before,” Sammons said.