Cricket World Cup 2015

SA can’t keep papering holes

2015-02-23 18:33
AB de Villiers (AFP)

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 right now.

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 attack.

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 day.

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 Africa.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cwc 2015  |  cricket

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