SA's cupboard barely bare
Sport24 columnist Ant Sims (File)
Just a few weeks ago at a press conference at Newlands, Allan Donald was caught off guard just a little bit when he was asked about the future of South African fast bowling.
He talked about a kid called Beuran Hendricks and then said he is somewhat, not very, but just somewhat concerned about the current fast bowling stock South Africa has at its disposal.
A few days later and that cupboard’s stocks were about to be tested. With Morne Morkel ruled out of the third and final Test against Pakistan with injury, somebody very few people had ever heard of was called in as cover. Nobody thought he would ever play and when a press release announced Kyle Abbott as the cover player, many, including myself, scoffed at the thought of him playing Test cricket. Most of those people also scoffed at Vernon Philander’s inclusion to the side just over a year ago.
Abbott, like Philander, had done enough on paper to earn himself a call up. He had finished with 49 wickets in nine games in South Africa’s domestic four day competition, but to picture him as a Test bowler was still somewhat challenging.
Heinz Schenk, a fellow cricket scribe, had been banging on about Kyle “Jimmy” Abbott for the entire season and despite having watched him in the four day game a few times, I remained unconvinced. Schenk argued that players should be picked on how well they know their game and not whether they looked the part of a Test player, although, how exactly a Test player looks nobody really knows. Abbott just looked so... average.
There was nothing average about him when he stepped out in his Test whites, though. He made his debut in stellar fashion and he is just one of many fast bowlers who have graduated from the High Performance Academy which former Proteas bowling coach Vincent Barnes heads up.
Barnes was with the Proteas for eight years before he was shifted to take charge of the HPC and he has a wealth of fast bowlers to nurture and fine tune, not only to help ease the burden on the current crop of spearheads, but also to prepare players for the step up onto the international stage. Also in charge of the South African A team, Barnes has a crop of youngsters at his hands who he can shape and mould to perfection.
Hendricks, who currently plays for the Cobras, is another soon-to-be graduate while Marchant de Lange, recently back from injury - bowling at 150km/h - had previously come through the ranks in Pretoria. Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Wayne Parnell and even Chris Morris are all players who are currently the clay Barnes is moulding and while those are all players who have been tried and tested in the past it was before the academy structure was in such prime condition.
Above and beyond some of those known names, there are a few bowlers on the domestic circuit who are all sticking their hands up, all players who know their game and who - with the right help and guidance - can become serious contenders for a spot in the South African side.
To have such a wealth of players at one’s disposal is not only a luxury, but it’s also one of the key aspects of fostering success in the national team. The more players pushing for places, the more competition will be created amongst the less established bowlers, ensuring there is no room for complacency to breed and if anybody ever felt like not putting in the effort, they’ll be dumped like a hot potato.
Abbott hailed the first-class structure, the A-team set up and the High Performance Centre as one of the crucial aspects in his development.
Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana as also echoed the strength of the domestic set-up.
“The strength of quality on the domestic circuit is huge. If you look at the guys who play franchise cricket who make it to the national team and immediately perform is really impressive. Just look at Faf du Plessis who was magical in Australia,” he said.
Davy Jacobs, skipper of the Warriors hailed first-class cricket as the most important for his side and believes that there is a shift in the way players are approaching the game.
"I think there's been a shift in cricket again lately. When T20 started everybody wanted to play IPL and Champions League, the Warriors included. We focussed so much on T20 and limited overs cricket and four-day cricket was quite far behind,” Jacobs said.
"Now there is a shift in world cricket again where Test cricket is the main thing and it's no longer just about playing for South Africa anymore, it's about playing Test cricket for South Africa. The Warriors as a franchise definitely wants to do well in four-day cricket, we feel that it's first prize.”
That sort of thinking and that sort of management set up to help fringe players slot into the team warms the heart of those who still enjoy the Test format as the ultimate version of the game.
Cupboard bare? Barely. Ant Sims is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...
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