Cape Town – It is just beginning to look as
though South Africa, at the start of the World Cup, will return to the filing
cabinet their “bits-and-pieces player” strategy for the problematic No 7 slot
in the team.
And that could spell curtains for Farhaan
Behardien, the Titans batsman and occasional medium-pacer who had spent several
of the last few weeks entrusted with the job.
Unfortunately his numbers haven’t stacked
up well in personal performance terms, and if the two warm-up matches for the
tournament – first against Sri Lanka and then on Wednesday New Zealand - serve
as any barometer then a late change of thinking is underway.
In short, he’s barely been used across the
pair of matches, where the entire 15-man squads may be employed in varying
capacities, and he doesn’t seem the kind of player to be strategically “held
back” - if anything he has only needed extra exposure with both ball and blade
in the limb-looseners to gain confidence if he has an immediate future in the
proper starting XI.
Behardien reportedly has some sort of back
problem which kept him muzzled on Wednesday; it will only further cause doubts
to swirl around his usage at the event.
The Proteas start their Pool B campaign
against Zimbabwe at Hamilton’s Seddon Park on Sunday (03:00 SA time), perhaps
just a little nose out of joint after following up their Duckworth/Lewis-influenced
victory over Sri Lanka with an unpalatable 134-run thumping at the hands of
in-form co-hosts the Black Caps.
Veteran World Cup observers will not be
reading too much into results in the slightly artificial exercises, where
rotation and experimentation are so often desirable features, and vital players
who are already in good nick either don’t play or intentionally operate at well
less than full steam.
In the heavy reverse to the New Zealanders,
for example, Dale Steyn didn’t bowl and Hashim Amla didn’t bat, so panic among
Proteas fans would be more than a bit premature.
Yet a hallmark of both warm-ups was that
the 31-year-old Behardien, who has played 21 one-day internationals, was extremely
peripheral even before news of his back issue came out.
He did not bat in either warm-up, so he has
not played an innings of substance for the Proteas since his 63 against
Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground in November if you throw in the fact that he
either failed or got restricted opportunities to take guard in the home West
Indies series subsequently.
Not helping his cause was that in his
brief, two-over bowling stint against Sri Lanka a few days ago, he was carted
for 20 runs after deployment as only seventh option by SA.
It strongly hints that coach Russell
Domingo and his inner circle may be shifting toward the idea, for the tournament-proper,
of risking diluting the batting a bit by replacing Behardien with a more proven
seam bowling option: meaning a shoot-out between Wayne Parnell and Kyle Abbott for
the berth, and perhaps the under-rated Vernon Philander being hiked a notch or
two for batting purposes.
Between them, Parnell (the better of the
pair willow-wise) and Abbott have shared nine wickets across the two warm-ups
and had far more generous bowling opportunities than Behardien.
The Proteas had a rare collective “wobbly”
among their batting cream against the Black Caps on Wednesday, sliding to 62
for six in pursuit of a target well in excess of 300, and it was significant
that Philander (57) played a prominent role in sparing at least some blushes in
a fighting, century stand with the more established stroke-player JP Duminy.
Should South Africa choose to field one of
Parnell or Abbott in the first couple of pool matches, it would ease the pressure
on Duminy to bowl his off-spinners to a significant extent, as he would become
the sixth bowling option.
Still, you cannot completely dismiss the
possibility that the intention is still to stick stubbornly to Behardien’s
inclusion, with the physiotherapy staff hard at work restoring him to fullest
fitness ahead of Sunday’s Zimbabwe date.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing