CAPE TOWN – “It’s going to take time to find out who these guys really are. Obviously I know they’re batting, and I know the older guys the ones I’ve played with and against.
“But with some of the younger guys, I’ll only have some good information in about six months’ time, once I get to know the okes and have a feel for how things really are.
“Test cricket is a hell of a tough game. Looking at one-day cricket, I can see someone like (Aiden) Markram coming in and making a big difference straight away.
“But Test cricket takes time. Even (Jacques) Kallis needed eight Tests to get going.”
That was Dale Benkenstein upon his appointment as the Proteas batting coach on 19 November 2017. In essence, it is 15 Test matches, 21 one-day internationals and 10 T20 internationals ago.
And in that period, South Africa’s batting has slumped to its greatest depths.
So, how much more time does Benkenstein actually need to get a “feel for how things really are”?
There have been factors that have been outside of Benkenstein’s control, such as the bowler-friendly pitches at home and, of course, AB de Villiers’ retirement after the Australian Test series last year.
But can that really be an excuse for South Africa’s woeful batting displays over the past 15 months?
The cold numbers read like a script from a best-selling Stephen King horror novel.
Since November 2017, the Proteas have gone to the crease 29 times in Test innings. Only twice have they passed 400.
The wounded Australians were the first victims during the final Test in Johannesburg, when they were still reeling from #SandpaperGate at Newlands the previous week, and then Pakistan this past New Year.
Furthermore, they have passed 300 only five times. In fact, they have registered eight totals below 200, including five under 150!
The ultimate humiliation was when they crashed to 73 in Galle last year. It was the national team’s record lowest Test score since 1956!
Benkenstein spoke about knowing the “older guys” upon his appointment, but yet it is their performances that have dropped faster than the rand.
Hashim Amla has averaged 26.07 since the former Dolphins captain entered the Proteas dressing-room, with his overall average heading southwards from 49.07 to 46.64.
Equally, Dean Elgar – previously South Africa’s Mr Consistency – has plunged from 42.30 to 38.77.
Captain Faf du Plessis continues the trend, with the skipper dropping from 46.54 to 42.95.
Senior players such as Amla, Elgar and Du Plessis are often not in need of much “coaching”, but they do require meticulous planning and technical analysis from the support staff.
Video analyst Prasanna Agoram has always been the ultimate professional, with Amla even publicly acknowledging his contribution after a century at Lord’s in 2012.
But it is alarming when Benkenstein recently admitted in Port Elizabeth during the second Test against Sri Lanka: “We didn’t know a lot about a lot of their players. We may have been a little bit complacent.”
That’s simply not acceptable in a professional environment.
The Proteas’ white-ball numbers are equally mediocre. For a team that have posted the most totals – four – in excess of 400 on the top 10 list of highest ODI totals ever, it’s a concern that they have not touched that figure since “Benky” has been parading in the national tracksuit.
In fact, there have only been two 300-plus totals, and five scores below 200 in the past 22 ODI innings.
Once again, the Proteas also rewrote the record books for all the wrong reasons, with the hapless 118 against India at Centurion being their lowest ODI total on home soil.
Even more disappointing has been the fact that despite Benkenstein “seeing Markram coming in and making a big difference straight away”, the prodigiously talented young batsman has fallen down the pecking order so much that he is in serious danger of missing out on a place in the World Cup squad later this year.
It is decision time for the suits at Cricket South Africa.
Either return Benkenstein to the valleys of Hilton College to continue coaching schoolboy cricketers, or provide him with assistance in the same way Charl Langeveldt was called up to help Allan Donald in the bowling department ahead of the last World Cup.
Either way, something has to be done. It simply cannot continue in its current state.
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