@Aadya_Wisden 3 minute read
South Africa’s batting issues were laid bare on the opening day of the Brisbane Test, but Kyle Verreynne‘s brave resistance gives hope that it’s not all bleak, writes Aadya Sharma.
Stalling on 30-4 in the first session of the series, and battling a spritely, green surface that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Wimbledon, South Africa were in desperate need of a counter-punch. Mitchell Starc was moving the ball around, Pat Cummins was keeping it tight and compact, and Scott Boland was…well, being Scott Boland. That was when Kyle Verreynne – playing his first Test on Australian soil – pulled the first ball of Cam Green’s spell to the vacant midwicket region. It wasn’t a wholly convincing stroke, only trickling to the fence, but it gave South Africa hope that there was a Test still to be played.
Three balls later, another short ball arrived, and Verreynne rose to his toes, chasing the width and smoking it with a clean flourish over the deep point fence. Across the next two hours, it was clear that Verreynne loved playing on the back foot. It was also clear that South Africa have a doughty No.6 in their ranks, one who is ready to stand tall in a fight.
It’s a much-needed asset in a lopsided South African lineup, blessed with a goldmine of bowling, but still figuring out what their batting should look like. The current lineup is largely new and untested, and how it fares is likely to dictate how the visitors fare in this Test series and beyond. Their last five scores in the first innings of a Test away from home now read: 95, 364, 151, 118 and 152. There are concerns over the lack of Test experience. Before the Test former South Africa batter Jonty Rhodes said: “Even the guys who have played Tests, if you look at their profiles they are ‘hard-hitting, aggressive batters’ and they all average 26, so those profiles tell you a story.”
With Dean Elgar, easily South Africa’s best batter, back in the dressing room by the fifth over, and a hat-trick of departures with the score of 27, the issues were suddenly laid bare on the opening day of the series. Those still hung over by Sydney Thunder’s capitulation from last night were seeing a collapse of a different kind unfold.
Unbothered, Verreynne batted with conviction, helped along by the reassuring resolve of Temba Bavuma at the other end. Some deliveries jagged past, some took along edges that didn’t carry. Anything short caught Verreynne’s eye. Things kept moving. One move at a time, South Africa crawled out of the quicksand. It’s another story that there was a second collapse lying in waiting.
When a plucky reverse-sweep off Nathan Lyon’s third ball of the morning went for four, you knew there was a little daredevil inside Verreynne, enjoying the smell of a good battle. Here was a hard-hitting, aggressive batter who averages 26, writing his own story.
The Brisbane knock was another step in Verreynne’s quick development within the South Africa side. Months ago, he was vying for a spot as a specialist batter, before Quinton de Kock’s unexpected Test retirement threw open a door of opportunities. Suddenly, Verreynne was tasked with filling a massive hole in their lineup. And he’d done the hard work to be a deemed a suitable candidate.
Verreynne averages 51.50 in first-class cricket, having scored bucketloads of runs for Western Province in the domestic circuit. After early doubts (he had a best score of 30 after his first eight innings), he struck a third-innings, match-winning 136* in New Zealand, proving that, in a batting lineup in desperate need to discover its soul, he could be the infectious spark in the middle order. The Brisbane knock only reinforced that.
It’s only the start of the 25-year-old’s journey, and there’s still plenty to develop. For one, his propensity to play on the back foot can sometimes be his bane: even his dismissal to Nathan Lyon came off a delivery that was better countered on the front foot. The feet movement could be tested on surfaces different to Brisbane: by his own admission, his footwork isn’t his stronger suit, and he relies more on contact points to get the job done. Consistency will also hopefully improve: in nineteen Test innings, he still has just two fifty-plus scores.
An unbeaten double hundred against Boland last month would have been a confidence booster going into the Australia Tests. The Brisbane innings would have only upped that meter. There’s still a de Kock-sized hole to fill, and a multitude of other batting problems to solve, but South Africa could take some consolation in Verreynne’s 96-ball stay, hopefully giving a sneak peek of what the future might hold.