South Africa's big three in need of big runs

The search for form in South Africa's top order (0:53)

Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy have all had a poor run in the last few Tests. Here's a look at their recent numbers (0:53)

If batting problems are the subject under discussion in this series, New Zealand are the side worse off. They have a misfiring opener in Tom Latham and are without their most experienced player, Ross Taylor. But South Africa are not without issues. Despite the coming of age of Dean Elgar, the nuggety approach of Temba Bavuma and the sensation that is Quinton de Kock, they have three senior players - Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy - who desperately need runs.

"All batting units at international level will have one player struggling for form but that's okay because you can't just be relying on that one player," South Africa coach Russell Domingo said. "That's why it's a batting unit and that's why it's a team - the team has got to try and help that player get out of those slumps. We've got maybe two or three players who are feeling that pressure at the moment. That's a little bit of a concern. It's always easier to just have one but when you've got two or three who are maybe searching for a bit of form, a bit of runs, it does become more challenging."

Stephen Cook

Scores on this tour (Tests only): 3, 0, 3, 11
Innings since last hundred: 7
Hundreds this season: 2

There is no getting around the fact that Stephen Cook does not score pretty runs, but now he has added ugly dismissals to his CV as well. He has been the first man out on all four occasions in this series and to the same kind of delivery - the outswinger. He has both left the wrong ball (first innings in Dunedin) and gone fishing after it (both innings in Wellington). And though he would have survived had he reviewed the caught behind in the second innings of the first Test, one can't help but wonder for how long?

Cook looks increasingly edgy at the crease, perhaps even worse than he did in Australia, where his first four innings yielded 75 runs. He could be banking on the knowledge that he came through that rough patch and scored a century in the second innings of the day-night Test in Adelaide and topped that up with another at home against Sri Lanka. Judging by how he hit the nets on Wednesday, when only fielding drills were compulsory, Cook seemed to know he couldn't rely on those statistics for too long.

"He hits more balls than anyone else in the world so he is going to be here even if no-one is allowed to be here," Domingo said.

Cook might not lose his spot just yet considering the only reserve batsman in the squad is Theunis de Bruyn, who usually plays in the middle order. Quinton de Kock moving up seems unlikely as well, given his responsibility as wicketkeeper. And as far as future prospects go, Aiden Markram, the 22-year-old opener with an average of 41.38 from 28 first-class matches, may need a little more time to mature.

Hashim Amla

Scores on this tour (Tests only): 1, 24, 21, 38*
Innings since last hundred: 4
Hundreds this season: 1

It might be sacrilege to even suggest Hashim Amla is losing his touch but an unusually lean season says something needs addressing. He has struggled with footwork (first innings in Dunedin, when he was bowled through a bat-pad gap) and concentration (soft dismissals in the second innings in Dunedin and first in Wellington) issues, which could be the consequence of limited-overs cricket affecting his Test match play.

Amla gave up captaincy last January, in the same match that he scored a double-ton. Another century two games later hinted that he had been freed up, but a lean tour of Australia and struggles against Sri Lanka - broken briefly by a hundred in his 100th Test - brought the doubts back. Amla has looked better as the New Zealand series has gone on, and given his sterling record in England, where South Africa play next, they will not even consider going without him.

JP Duminy

Scores on this tour (only Tests): 1, 39, 16, 15*
Innings since last hundred: 4
Hundreds this season: 2

JP Duminy began as a Test player with immense promise but somewhere along, he has turned into one that frustrates the fans. After 44 matches, he still averages under 35 and his six hundreds are spaced out through significant periods of under-performance.

Duminy has had a poor tour of New Zealand, across formats. In the Tests, he was bounced out on the pull (first innings Dunedin), pinned in front playing all around an inswinger (second innings Dunedin), caught off a half-volley (second innings Wellington) and he has no excuses.

Since AB de Villiers' absence, Duminy has been promoted to No. 4 and he had early success, scoring a cathartic century against Australia in Perth. He revealed he had considered retirement last summer but was persuaded to stay on by then-selector Ashwell Prince, and Faf du Plessis has not stopped praising his game since. Duminy went on to score a century against Sri Lanka too but has not been unable to build on those innings. Although, his bowling adds to his value, it will not be enough to keep him in the side if his low scores continue. If de Bruyn is to come into the XI, Duminy is the likeliest man to make way.

Two days ago, Duminy opted out of the IPL so he could have a little more time to work on his game, a sign of commitment to the national cause

"He has made that decision based purely on freshening up from the mental aspect side of things but also family commitments. I suppose in the long run it is in the best interests of JP Duminy and also South African cricket," Domingo said.

Unless the results start to show soon, Duminy may end his career as a nearly-man and South Africa will have to look elsewhere.