Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – In South Africa’s last Twenty20 international appearance,
at the Wanderers back on October 16, Juan “Rusty” Theron helped get them out of
jail at his secondary skill of lower-order batting.
Theron’s 31 not out off only 16 eventful balls, in an
unbeaten eighth-wicket partnership of 64 with Wayne Parnell, got the Proteas a
series-squaring win they barely deserved in the two-match assignment against
Australia after they had stared right down the barrel of a 0-2 outcome.
It was confirmation of the spiky limited-overs package the
Warriors campaigner is; there’s a fashionable little theory in cricket, after
all, that a “bit of ginger” in the ranks is what many a cricket team needs.
But it is at his chief trade, that of seam bowler with the
ability to smack toes or topple timber in late innings with his yorkers, that
Gary Kirsten and company will probably be hoping Theron shines most brightly in
the three-game T20 series against New Zealand starting on Friday (Wellington,
08:00 SA time).
That is assuming, of course, that he is actually selected
for the opening fixture from a 14-strong party -- although as he was named
player-of-the-match on the aforementioned date against the Aussies, logical continuity
and fair treatment suggests he will.
Well into his 27th year, Theron can no longer
really be described as a promising young element of the national limited-overs
mix, although he has still only played 11 matches for his country across the
two one-day codes.
In his seven T20 internationals, he has taken 11 wickets at
an average of 20.09 and has an economy rate of 8.08.
The last-named statistic is always of special relevance in
this format, and for Theron to really batten down a consistent berth, he
probably needs to bring it back a little, into the early “sevens” at least
where someone like Charl Langeveldt – his predecessor in many ways as a Proteas
death bowler – boasts his runs-per-over home.
Bowling at the finish in T20 cricket is notoriously tricky:
sometimes you can put the ball exactly where you intended it to go and it still
gets unceremoniously thumped into the stands.
And getting a yorker only a fraction off desired length can
have very damaging consequences.
Theron has rather blown hot and cold, thus far, in this area
of responsibility for South Africa, so with the ICC World Twenty20 looming
later this year in Sri Lanka – yes, a further chance for the Proteas to earn
overdue silverware at a global bash -- he could do with some disciplined
showings in New Zealand to put beyond doubt his suitability as the bowling
version of a “finisher”.
It is an area South Africa still haven’t nailed down with
great conviction, particularly since the now 37-year-old Langeveldt gradually
became surplus to requirements.
Potchefstroom-born Theron has sometimes sparkled for the
national cause with ball in hand, a case in point being the decisive second T20
international against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in 2010, when he earned career-best
figures of 4-0-27-4 and the man-of-the-match mantle as South Africa powered
their way to a 2-0 outcome in suffocating conditions seemingly more suited to
the “host” nation.
But he has also suffered some run-concession angst at times,
including in successive home-turf T20 defeats to India and Australia.
The first was in the much-touted “Makhaya Ntini farewell” at
Moses Mabhida Stadium two seasons ago, a once-off encounter, where Theron was
walloped for almost 10 runs an over, and then in early 2011/12, the first of
those two matches against the Aussies, when his figures read a particularly
Then, a no-nonsense Shane Watson got stuck into him badly in
his first over at Newlands and it seemed to rattle him irreversibly, although
some rotten luck also played its part in his worst stint, on paper at least, in
the international T20 environment.
With the Proteas opting to rest hugely seasoned competitors
Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis from this particular series (they rejoin the fray
pretty quickly for the ODIs), there will be added pressure on Theron to keep a
cool head in his likely designated chore at the back end of the Black Caps’
A poor series by him and South Africa could well be resuming
a slow, frustrating search to fill a key slot not too many soldiers have
enthusiastically stuck up their hands for.
Theron may well be at a defining point of his career for the
Proteas as he tries his hand on the virgin terrain, for him, of New Zealand.
Most people, I suspect, share my own gut feel that he has
the mettle for the job; he just needs to emphatically tick the “delivery” box
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