Cape Town – It stubbornly remains the most complex and
unenviable of tasks, but it seems increasingly clear that getting the selection
mix correct on the day could be a key ticket to South Africa winning their
World Cup quarter-final.
As it happened: SA beat UAE by 146 runs
The Proteas wrapped up their Pool B programme on Thursday
with a comfortable enough thumping of minnows the United Arab Emirates in
Wellington, even if they still carry the hallmarks of a slightly jittery outfit
Frankly, after six group matches at this tournament, we are
all still left with the feeling we nursed beforehand that South Africa have a
puncher’s chance at CWC glory more because of the potential majesty of certain
individuals than collective steeliness and balance to the XI itself.
The Proteas, with four wins and two losses, both to
Subcontinent sides -- India and Pakistan – are still massively likely to be
playing a third major power from that neck of the woods, Sri Lanka, in the
first quarter-final at Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday, March 18.
Typically of their tournament so far, AB de Villiers’ team
seemed to plug some holes even as others stayed porous or even widened during
the patchily ruthless disposal of the UAE, who seemed more interested in
playing cling-on cricket at times than trying with any conviction to really go
after the runs required of them.
Much-maligned partial all-rounder Farhaan Behardien, for
example, was one of the more assertive players in the match, smacking a
powerful unbeaten 64 at a strike rate of 206 to take the SA total well out of
reach of the UAE (even if they had ever dreamed of later eclipsing it before he
took to the crease at No 7).
He did what most finishers are supposed to do, really: work
the ball around a bit before building up to a crescendo of boundary strokes
towards the death.
His knockers, on social media, were inevitably quick to
protest along the lines of: “But this is only the UAE, for Pete’s sake.”
What is the poor guy supposed to do? Get himself out cheaply,
so they can chortle instead: “See ... he even fails against the Emirates!”?
Considering that he also trundled four overs at a
respectable cost of only 11 runs, Behardien has at the very worst stuck up his
hand credibly for inclusion in the quarter-final, should the Proteas’ main
strategists decide that he is the correct “bridging” character again in the
lower middle order, with versatile strings to his bow.
Once more on this occasion, De Villiers perhaps very
deliberately split his oft-problematic fifth bowler quota of overs among three
staffers: himself, JP Duminy and Behardien.
Between them, their closing analysis read 10-2-38-3 and that
looks pretty darned respectable on paper.
The vexing question to be weighed up over the next few days,
of course, is: just how much less flattering might that mix-and-match trio’s
figures look against a more top-tier batting line-up, and one as generally
in-form as the Sri Lankan one?
A lot could depend on how astutely De Villiers, Russell
Domingo and others read the pitch for the high-stakes knockout clash as truth
be told, the SA side could be shaped in several ways while still looking quite
glaringly vulnerable in various departments.
The situation has been compounded, rather than aided, by the
failure yet again at this World Cup of wicketkeeper/batsman Quinton de Kock to
get properly among the runs – he was dismissed for a tentative 26, albeit his
highest score in six knocks, for a pool-ending average of a desperate 8.83.
De Kock is a rare talent who will rise again, but as former
national coach Eric Simons said in the SuperSport studio during Thursday’s
match, he is a “confidence player” and that can’t be gushing from all the
youngster’s pores at present.
Can he be risked under such circumstances for a World Cup
QF? You have to suspect not.
It would necessitate the amazing De Villiers, who
incidentally took his tournament runs tally to 417 at 83.40 with his 99 against
the UAE, assuming the glovework although we have seen before that that is
hardly a train smash for the “can do” cricketer supreme.
It wasn’t especially edifying to see the likes of Dale Steyn
and Vernon Philander occasionally being thumped back unceremoniously down the
track by unheralded UAE stroke-players, but at least Morne Morkel and Imran
Tahir continued their consistent bowling ways at this World Cup – Morkel produced
several bodily-harm deliveries that did little to encourage the UAE batsmen to
regularly get in line.
One extra, unsatisfactory aspect of the current team brew is
that Kyle Abbott, who has looked keen and full of thrust when given tournament opportunities,
can’t get a gig; hopefully that will come at the SCG if a decision is made to
go the Full Monty five-bowler route.
De Villiers reportedly said post-match that formula is “not
a given”, however.
The South African word for the Proteas’ not wholly pleasant
quarter-final selection pickle is “eish”, wouldn’t you agree?
*Admittedly from the
risky position of almost a week ahead and some fitness issues also to
considered, I am just beginning to see this as the likeliest Proteas combo now,
warts and all, for the quarter-final (in best batting order): Hashim Amla,
Rilee Rossouw, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (capt, wkt), David Miller, JP
Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing