The Proteas comfortably beat Sri Lanka (as they should, with all due respect) in their recently completed two-match Test series. But to be the best in the world, it is the likes of Australia, India, New Zealand and Pakistan they should be measured against.
On Boxing Day last year, three Test matches started: South Africa vs Sri Lanka at SuperSport Park in Centurion, Australia vs India in Melbourne, and New Zealand vs Pakistan at Mount Maunganui. A striking feature of the top six batsmen from South Africa, Australia, India, New Zealand and Pakistan in these matches, is their comparative Test career statistics. The numbers tell their own story…
In no order, the collective number of Test matches played by the top six were 179, 164, 239, 356 and 138. Guess which number was South Africa’s?
The Proteas’ top six for the SuperSport Park encounter consisted of Dean Elgar (63 caps), Aiden Markram (20), Rassie van der Dussen (4), Faf du Plessis (65), Quinton de Kock (47) and Temba Bavuma (40). Between them they had played 239 Test matches – over a 100 more than Pakistan’s top six (138) and considerably more than Australia (164) and India (179). Call it what you want, but you cannot say that they were inexperienced.
Now here is another statistic. Again, in no order, the combined averages of the top six batsmen from the five countries were 42.40, 36.81, 45.87, 36.99 and 43.80. Which one is the Proteas’ top six average?
Yip, you are right – 36.81. In fact, it is so bad that if you take away the career statistics of Pakistan’s best batsman, Azhar Ali, the other five batsmen have a combined average of 35.85 from just 57 Test caps – only one run less than what the Proteas’ top six could muster from 239 matches! None of the Proteas’ top six batsmen had an average of over 40 when the SuperSport Test match started.
The Proteas’ top six also fare poorly against their other main rival, England. The top six currently playing against Sri Lanka have played 234 Test matches with a combined average of 40,63 (four runs better than the Proteas in five fewer matches).
The counterargument is that, as bad as it looks, that is the best top six batsmen we have. I beg to differ. After so many Test matches, is it not clear that they are not up to Test standard? Would the Proteas really be any weaker by giving an opportunity to younger batsmen who have consistently scored truckloads of runs in domestic cricket, the likes of Pieter Malan, Kyle Verreynne, Keagan Petersen, Raynard van Tonder and Eddie Moore? The Test match record of the current top six would suggest not.
In De Kock the Proteas have the best No.6/7 batsman in the world. His current Test average of 38.46 is an insult to his immense talent. But that average is a direct result of him being moved up and down the top six because the batsmen around him are not up to scratch. De Kock’s true potential will never be realised if there are not at least two batsmen in the top six with averages of around 45.
There is a saying that has over the years been attributed to many famous people, including the author Mark Twain and British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Normally used in a disparaging or cynical context, it is: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In cricket statistics do not lie. The Proteas selectors, however, seem to be treating statistics as lies (or perhaps even damned lies).