Cape Town – Are we going to keep simply patching the weak
spots with newspaper and tinfoil, or has the time come to seek a more profound,
bravely alternative form of repair?
That is a question that should be very firmly on the minds
of the Proteas squad’s strategists as they weigh up game three at the World Cup
against West Indies at Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday (05:30 SA time).
It has become a vital, necessary bounce-back opportunity in
Pool B after a so-so win against Zimbabwe and then thrashing from India ...
remember that the Australasian adventure so far has also included a warm-up
hiding from New Zealand, so there is a worrisome pattern of under-performance
The time seems absolutely right for a pro-active response to
mini-crisis, and I believe that may mean acknowledging that the attempt to
manufacture an all-rounder in the troublesome No 7 berth is just not working.
They’ve dabbled with the likes of Farhaan Behardien,
especially, and Wayne Parnell in the slot in recent weeks and months, and the
results on all-important paper are sadly but glaringly unconvincing. (Harsher
observers might prefer “lamentable”.)
You have to feel for both players, who must be acutely aware
that the role is considered the team’s soft underbelly and the topic of
endless, critical evaluation – the pressure certainly can’t help their quest to
make it work, and every time they underwhelm must only increase doubt and
vulnerability in their own minds.
In short, a spiral effect.
I have long been sympathetic to the selectors and
management’s dilemma over No 7, as it is a key balancing position in the structure
of the XI as presently constituted, and been particularly willing to subscribe to
the hope that Behardien’s modest medium-pacers might actually aid variety in the
But if he (and ditto Parnell, when preferred) is perpetually
huffing and puffing with both and ball, and just not blowing any houses down,
do you simply persevere with a relatively lame duck or do you accept that
different thinking is needed?
Given that the Proteas really ought to beat West Indies
regardless of how they assemble their side, Friday at the SCG seems as suitable
an opportunity as any to take the plunge and decide: JP Duminy is going to be
our lone, fifth bowler.
It would be a move not without certain perils, perhaps the
most obvious one being that Australian tracks, in particular, don’t seem that
tailor-made for a “three fast men, two spinners” formula for ODIs – you would
normally want a bit more of a seam presence than that.
Then again, we all know it is increasingly a batsman’s game
anyway, and some of the most gruesome analyses on high-scoring surfaces these
days are recorded more by pace bowlers than exponents of slower fare.
Interestingly, former Australian batting trump card Mike
Hussey, who has been doing some part-time CWC work with the Proteas, became
just the latest personality – on TV commentary during the SA-India clash – to
suggest that Duminy is well up to handling a full 10-over quota.
Between them, Duminy and specialist first-choice spinner
Imran Tahir, who moves closer and closer to deserving the mantle of SA’s most
dependable bowler these days, sent down 17 overs anyway against India, and
their joint-concession rate of 5.2 runs to the over looks even more favourable than
it was when you measure it against Parnell’s gory 9.44 as fourth pace element on
The attractiveness of empowering Duminy with “maximum” overs
is that the Proteas can then make room for current reserve batsman Rilee
Rossouw in a seven-strong batting department, meaning that their tail (yes,
unavoidably a pretty vulnerable one) will really begin around No 8 rather than
the present, widely-perceived No 7.
It is true that the tall left-hander has been an enigmatic
figure in his 14 ODI appearances for South Africa thus far – including five
ducks, yet also two big centuries – but he has already demonstrated certain
game-breaking type of qualities, which is more than can be said in recent times
of either Parnell or Behardien.
The other issue to grapple with would be where exactly to
station him, because as Kepler Wessels has rightly noted, he is best suited to
a role among the top three.
It might have to mean wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, who is
on a poor trot of three single-figure scores in as many ODIs and showing some
technical glitches, shifting to more of a finishing responsibility at seven.
This is the sort of team, then, that should perhaps be
unleashed on the Windies: Hashim Amla, Rilee Rossouw, Faf du Plessis, AB de
Villiers (capt), David Miller, JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander (if
fully fit, otherwise Kyle Abbott), Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.
There are risks to the suggested change of tack, for sure.
But I’d say risk is now a better approach than inertia.
The status quo is just too fragile, and it is costing South
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing