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South Africa: The fourth innings champions

South Africa: The fourth innings champions
South Africa drew the final Test, won the series against Sri Lanka, reclaimed No 1 Test rank © AFP

South Africa saved yet another Test when they drew the second Test at Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) to claim their first series in Sri Lanka in 21 years and reclaim the No 1 spot in the Test rankings. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at what makes the South African batting line-up work.

It was yet another close encounter; South Africa (albeit aided by rain) had to bat for what turned out to be 111 overs to save the Test. And they did it, yet again. Every batsman contributed to the 666-ball fightback. No 10 batsman Imran Tahir faced the least balls (21, and he remained not out).

Runs were never a factor. The fastest scorer was Quinton de Kock, who scored 37 off 92 balls at a strike rate of 40.2. Nobody else went above a strike rate of 30. They did not do anything flashy. They did not need to. They just had to hang in, a task they executed with perfection.

One must remember that this list includes Hashim Amla (strike rate of 90 in ODIs), de Kock (ODI strike rate 87.9), Faf du Plessis (the T20I captain), JP Duminy (ODI strike rate 83.6), and AB de Villiers (arguably the most destructive batsman in the world); this also included Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, and Tahir — all of whom are in the side to bowl.

They have managed to master the art of batting in the fourth innings of Tests. Let us consider the top Test run-scorers.

Great batsmen in fourth innings of Tests
  I NO R Ave BF Balls /dismissal
Sachin Tendulkar

60

16

1,625

36.93

3,203

72.80

Ricky Ponting

43

14

1,462

50.41

2,382

82.14

Jacques Kallis

47

15

1,332

41.63

3,108

97.13

Rahul Dravid

57

18

1,575

40.38

3,998

102.51

Brian Lara

46

5

1,440

35.12

2,761

67.34

Steve Waugh

31

7

613

25.54

1,436

59.83

Shivnarine Chanderpaul

47

11

1,567

43.53

3,310

91.94

Graeme Smith

41

10

1,611

51.97

2,572

82.97

Inzamam-ul-Haq

31

8

867

37.70

1,647

71.61

VVS Laxman

38

11

1,095

40.56

2,159

79.96

Matthew Hayden

39

13

1,287

49.50

2,052

78.92

Virender Sehwag

34

5

901

31.07

1,104

38.07

Alec Stewart

39

6

1,134

34.36

2,339

70.88

Alastair Cook

37

6

1,097

35.39

2,395

77.26

Michael Clarke

21

3

658

36.56

1,194

66.33

David Gower

25

6

633

33.32

1,303

68.58

Kevin Pietersen

32

5

1,017

37.67

1,656

61.33

Mark Waugh

27

7

820

41.00

1,558

77.90

Total

695

166

20,734

39.19

40,177

75.95

Total(sans South African batsmen)

607

141

17,791

38.18

34,497

74.03

[Note: The number of balls faced by earlier batsmen is generally not available]

It is evident that Jacques Kallis, with 97 balls per fourth innings dismissal, ranks next to only Rahul Dravid’s 102.5. Graeme Smith takes the third spot (do note his superlative average) with only Shivnarine Chanderpaul sneaking in between.

But these are the biggest South African names in the past decade. What about the current ones? Let us check the eleven men who played at SSC.

Current South African XI: fourth innings of Tests
  I NO R Ave BF Balls / dismissal
Alviro Petersen

11

2

176

19.56

381

42.33

Dean Elgar

3

1

24

12.00

91

45.50

Quinton de Kock

1

37

37.00

92

92.00

Hashim Amla

26

3

891

38.74

1,738

75.57

AB de Villiers

28

5

1,002

43.57

2,383

103.61

Faf du Plessis

6

1

334

66.80

1,079

215.80

JP Duminy

8

1

173

24.71

564

80.57

Vernon Philander

4

4

129

258

Dale Steyn

13

3

157

15.70

433

43.30

Imran Tahir

2

2

4

21

Morne Morkel

8

1

60

8.57

167

23.86

Total

110

23

2,987

34.33

7,207

82.84

Top eight

87

17

2,766

39.51

6,586

94.09

What does this mean? The giants of the sport have collectively done worse than the current South African XI (which contains youngsters and tail-enders), though they are slightly behind in batting average. However, if we consider only the top eight (which includes Philander, who has never been dismissed in the fourth innings of a Test despite facing 258 balls) they go past the big guns in terms of batting average, and substantially more when it comes to balls faced per dismissal.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here)

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