‘Back six batters’ – Graeme Smith wants South Africa to have an ‘aggressive mindset’ in Australia

With South Africa still figuring out their best XI for the Test tour of Australia, former captain Graeme Smith believes they should stick to an “aggressive mindset” and play six batters and five bowlers.

“I’d like to see South Africa back their six batters,” Smith told ESPNcricinfo. “I think there’s always that fear because the batting has been weak. They’ve always looked to play the extra batter. Maybe that can be a defensive mindset and not an aggressive mindset. I’d like to see them take an aggressive mindset.

“You’ve got Lungi Ngidi, you’ve got Marco Jansen. You’ve got [Kagiso] Rabada and Anrich Nortje, and you’ve got Keshav Maharaj, who are all outstanding Test bowlers and can really win you games single-handedly. Work on the batters, get the six batters to bat in partnerships and get totals. If you get the totals you want, bowlers can win you games. And South Africa should pick the bowlers who can win you games.”

South Africa’s Test captain Dean Elgar had suggested they were still “in a bit of debate” about playing an extra batter to lengthen their line-up. South Africa are presently second in the World Test Championship table, but their batters haven’t been racking up big numbers in the last few years. Since the start of 2020, they have had just six centuries in 19 games, the fewest among the teams part of the WTC. In their previous Test series, which they lost to hosts England 2-1 in August-September, they had just one batter among the top five run-getters. They also got bowled out under 200 four times in that series.
Smith also said South Africa needed to focus on building partnerships. They have had just nine century stands in the last two years, which is again the fewest among the nine teams that are part of the World Test Championships.

“I think whenever you tour Australia you got to be prepared for being in someone else’s country for a period of time. Crowds.. and the players playing the game hard so definitely you’ve got to be mentally prepared

Graeme Smith knows a thing or two about touring down under

“If you can get those partnerships together over 100-150, you start to make an impact on the team’s innings. I think when you’re under pressure, you tend to focus on yourself and the pressure just grows, how you can work together as a batting unit to post totals there in Australia is going to be key. You obviously need some of your big players to perform well and take the pressure off the youngsters.”

South Africa’s bowling continues to remain their biggest strength. Their bowling average of 24.94 is the second lowest while their strike-rate of 46.7 is the best among the Test-playing teams in the last two years.

Among the standouts in this department has been Rabada, who’s been their kingpin across formats. Among the bowlers to take 50-plus wickets since 2020, only his team-mate Nortje has had a better bowling strike rate than him. Rabada is the only fast bowler who was part of South Africa’s successful Test tour of Australia in 2016, when he took 15 wickets in six innings.
Ahead of this tour, however, Rabada admitted that the amount of cricket being played was a concern and that it needs to be “managed”.

“The thing about KG is that he’s the centre piece for South African cricket at the moment so whenever he doesn’t play it’s noticeable,” Smith said. “But it’s about producing enough talent that you can afford to rest a player here and there. At the moment you know in a World Cup, and a big tour to Australia, he has to play his roles there. And also as he gets more experience, he will learn to manage himself and stay focused on what’s important.”

With Elgar saying his side was prepared for a “feisty” series against the current No. 1 Test team, Smith, who has been part of three bilateral tours to Australia, said South Africa should solely focus on competing on the field.

“I think whenever you tour Australia you got to be prepared for being in someone else’s country for a period of time. Crowds.. and the players playing the game hard so definitely you’ve got to be mentally prepared. I think the key is always playing good cricket. It’s the only way that I’ve found over the years, having lost really badly once and won twice, if you can play really good cricket and you turn everything around and the home team gets under pressure. So I hope that South Africa focus on their performances, in particular their batsmen. There is some talent in the bowling ranks, [but] if the batters can get some runs in Australia it gives you a chance to beat them.”

The first of three Tests between Australia and South Africa starts on December 17 at the Gabba in Brisbane,