Johannesburg — Australian cricket may be turning itself inside out off the field, but on it, the likes of Marnus Labuschagne, in particular, are sending a loud message to the touring South Africans.
And to be fair to the Proteas, they don’t actually need to hear it because they know full well what Labuschagne is capable of and what their own shortcomings are, even though they’ve adopted, at least in the case of Rassie van der Dussen, a defensive tone about the reasons why.
Labuschagne has started the Australian summer in rich form, making a double hundred and then two more centuries in three innings against the West Indies. That’s the same number of hundreds the Proteas have scored as a collective in the last 18 months.
While there’s plenty of chatter about following England’s attacking method, Van der Dussen wants the South African public to understand why the Proteas have batted the way they have in the last couple of years.
“The conditions we’ve been in have really been tough,” said the 33-year-old, who has played 17 Tests. “Our numbers tell the story – our guys are averaging in the 30s and some countries (batters) are averaging in the 50s and 60s and then people compare the two without exactly looking at taking conditions into consideration.”
It’s an argument Van der Dussen has been at pains to make. From the Caribbean tour last year, to the home series with India, the green tops in Christchurch (along with the strict 10-day quarantine period), turning tracks against Bangladesh on home soil and more seamer friendly pitches in England, the Proteas have drawn the short straw as far as pitches are concerned.
“How I look at it is, we are sitting at second in the World Test Championship and that tells you that the cricket we are playing has been sufficient to get us there and that means the conditions we’ve batted in other teams have too and somehow we have come out on top,” Van der Dussen commented.
“I’m not looking for excuses, we definitely want to get more hundreds and big partnerships and score a lot more runs individually. However if we bat as a unit and get our team across the line that is the most important thing.”
South Africa isn’t looking to revolutionise the Test game in the way England has with the bat in particular this year. Van der Dussen mentioned the recent series between the two teams in England and said Ben Stokes’ team weren’t able to implement that style of play.
“They tried it against us to an extent and it didn’t really work even though we lost the series. In (the second Test in) Manchester for a good part of the game we were in the game and even then they tried to play similarly and it didn’t work. It can work if the conditions are docile like they were in Pakistan, but as soon as bowlers are more into it, like at Lords (in the first Test), then it’s a very fine line between playing aggressively and getting out as opposed to being more disciplined.”
Van der Dussen, who missed the last Test in England after fracturing his finger in the Manchester match, said he was pleased to be back batting again. He played in a couple of Four-Day series matches for the Lions and felt no discomfort while batting, although he had to be careful when fielding.
His highest score in four innings for the Lions was 45. His teammates meanwhile all built some confidence locally; Dean Elgar and Theunis de Bruyn made hundreds, Sarel Erwee got a half-century for the Dolphins, while Kyle Verreynne and Heinrich Klaasen scored double centuries.
Although respectful of a world class Australian attack which they will face, Van der Dussen hopes that conditions Down Under will be fairer for the Proteas batters. “Hopefully the pitches play well and it is a good battle between bat and ball and the prep we have put in and what we will do in the next four days will be enough for us to fill our boots.”
South Africa will face a local invitation side in a four-day tour match in Brisbane from Friday. It is their only warm-up match before the first Test at The Gabba next week.