England’s balance riddle

2009-12-22 12:50

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Whether Dale Steyn is passed fit or not, South Africa ought to sport more satisfactory depth in bowling when they take to the field for the second Test against England at Kingsmead on Saturday.

Latest intelligence suggests the Proteas are cautiously optimistic that their ace strike bowler will recover from his niggly hamstring problem in time, and make a decision around Wednesday.

Should he get the all-clear, the brains trust will have to mull over which of Friedel de Wet, Morne Morkel or Makhaya Ntini to leave out, because their intention will remain a three-man main strike force plus Paul Harris’s left-arm spin and a good prospect of a full role this time by the wily Jacques Kallis as fourth seamer - something that was sometimes sorely absent in the Centurion draw in gruelling heat.

It is England, instead, who face a more complex selection dilemma after being generally outplayed at SuperSport Park, despite some decent stints of own prowess, while employing only four specialist bowlers themselves.

The temptation to introduce, say, a left-arm swing option at the sultry KwaZulu-Natal coastal venue in the form of experienced Ryan Sidebottom, must be pretty powerful although all of their current attack - James Anderson, Graham Onions, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann – could reasonably expect to retain their stations.

So Sidebottom’s possible addition to the attack should mean a batsman being sacrificed and that would almost certainly be the vulnerable Ian Bell, who scored five and two from the No 6 spot in the first Test, including getting out to a disastrous “leave” on middle-and-off against Harris in the first knock.

The question, then, is whether England will have the courage to promote wicketkeeper Matt Prior one rung up from No 7, where he also flopped - four and nought - at Centurion.

His Test batting average nevertheless remains a fairly compelling one after 24 Tests (41.56) and he was posted at No 6 for the majority of the victorious 2009 Ashes series.

A further incentive for the tourists, should they opt to weaken the specialist batting a little, is off-spinner Graeme Swann’s blossoming as a batsman at this level.

An extrovert character who transfers this approach to the crease, he is not your normal No 9 by any means - he registered his career-best score of 85 at SuperSport Park, has compiled 441 runs in only 16 Test innings and averages 36.75.

His tally includes successive knocks of 60-plus in the final two Ashes Tests at Headingley and the Oval, England’s last five-day contests prior to Centurion.

So the balance of their Durban team is a thorny issue for England, especially as some of the critics accompanying them on tour do believe their four-bowler formula is flawed.

Paul Weaver of the Guardian made the following point, for instance: “If you field only four bowlers, great care must be taken to ensure that their names are Holding, Roberts, Garner and Croft. The odd Warne or McGrath would also help.”

Yet a hunch says that England, who could also introduce a bits-and-pieces option at the expense of Bell in the form of Luke Wright, will retain a conservative route of only four frontline bowlers, as the cat-and-mouse characteristic of this intriguing series lingers …


  • p123 - 2009-12-22 13:13

    If Steyn is fit, how can they possibly drop De Wet. He was superb, particularly considering this was his debut. That leaves Ntini and Morkel. Whilst Morkel is still very inconsistent, Ntini has run his course. Of course SA's obsession with race may deternine the outcome...

  • Gazazza - 2009-12-22 13:43

    I think England may have a lot more balance than we give them credit for: Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Prior, Swann, Broad, Anderson, Sidebottom, Onions is an extremely well-balanced team, that provides a rounded bowling attack with good depth and variation (if no outright penetration), not to metion a batting line-up that goes down to Broad at 8 (and Anderson is no mug at 9). We don't have this sort of balance: Boucher is not a modern no. 7 (sorry - an ave of 30 in tests is not up to it in the modern game), and Morkel is a defintive tail-ender at 8 - in an era when your no.8 should be a decent batsman. Add to that the fact that we won't retire Ntini because of the political dimension (legend, of course, but his time is up), and we have a lop-sided, one-dimensional attack with a long-tailed batting line-up. Let's just hope our top order does the business all the time, and that Steyn and Harris can bring us a couple of fivers, with a few chipped in from Makha and Morkel. Otherwise, not much to look forward to, I'm afraid.

  • the general - 2009-12-22 13:44

    lets sit out Ntini for this one and give the guy a rest, he must go play some more county cricket and regain his form before bowling for south africa. Even his fielding is becoming dog slow. Unfortunately Ntini has not really conditioned himself nad looked after his body it would appear as his bowling is dead slow. At his age he still should have another season left in him but it does not appear so, my 6 year old daughter would be able to face ntini's best deliveries these days.

  • Vincnet - 2009-12-22 13:45

    I bet you race will be an issue, It should be Steyn, ,de wet, Langevelt, or wayne Parnell, Wayne may be expensive, but he takes wickets, He played well for his club in England

  • Houston - 2009-12-22 13:46

    Given the choice between Ntini and Morkel, wise heads should suggest Morkel, his wicket taking ability exceeds that of Ntini, who battles to get LBW's. Ntini is the past, Morkel is the future. Of course, wise heads exclude Majola, Sir Thabo et al, so let's see what happens

  • Ross - 2009-12-22 14:00

    As much as i love ntini i think he has seen his last test, i personally think de wet played very well considering it was his first test match ever. I think ntini shoudld be dropped and keep de wet we as long as dale stein in fit of course. Ntini has been a great servant of SA cricket and i think he should leave on high like pollock. As p123 said SA can't get rid of ntini as the race factor always plays a card and if you have seen one of the head lines on sport24 they are already wondering who the next black pearl is going to be, how ironic... Anyways good luck SA we are all behind you and thanks Ntini for being a great servant to SA cricket

  • faizal - 2009-12-22 14:22

    bunch of idiots.. one bad test doesnt mean u must retire.... for the record ntini is one of the fittest in the team... yes he had a bad test.. but look at last years that is 2008 stats and you will see he took 58 wickets or so............ 2nd behind steyn and including a fiver in the last test series and we need his experience....morkel is a great talent but needs to get his radar right... de wet, stey and ntini and parnell as back up.......

  • Mr Controversy - 2009-12-22 14:34

    Seems as though WHITE is the new BLACK!!!!

  • Wiggle - 2009-12-22 14:50

    ...will be luck if SA even draw the next matches - believe England is a much better outfit - they will win the remaining tests - only the weather can beat them and/or injuries on field - maybe then MJ & MA will be released from their seats

  • Steadfast - 2009-12-22 15:05

    Ntini out and far away from oval. Smith and Prins out. Steyn in, Alvo in. Then give next best batter in domestic a chance. He cant do worse that Smith and Prins. Morkel in.

  • Raj - 2009-12-22 15:19

    I don't think england are balanced..surely the past game proves it...they didn't dominate a full day with bat or ball...and whats this thing about Boucher...peopl keep calling for his can a 30 average in over 100 tests not be good.....lets compare boucher to prior...that says it all....good luck SA no 2 err you Pietersen and trott must be having some doubts about their choice...

  • harding - 2009-12-22 16:12

    They will drop De Wett and keep Ntini. Cause that's just how the cookie crumbles here in sunny SA. Drop talent, keep colour. That way , no one has to answer embarrassing questions to the minista e sport or that bold headed joke malema's anc jouth leage. thnx for killing sport. soon there will be nothing left to spoil or break. and dont ask me to stop brining colour into it.Ask that of the powers that be.

  • Protea poppie - 2009-12-22 20:12

    I love it that so many people take such an intense interest in the next test and the teams; one thing is for sure, after reading the reactions to the articles on cricket recently, there is no way that the selection, whatever it may be, will make everyone happy.In SA, the only thing that makes everyone happy (with the selection) is when SA wins!!! If not, the critics will continue to have a field day (pardon the pun!)

  • lamb chop - 2009-12-23 09:25

    @protea poppie. Kom sit op my skoot skatebol.

  • Abbey - 2009-12-23 09:43

    Ntini has been on the wane for a while, not just in one test. I think England is better overall basically because KP is the star of the two teams. He gives England the key edge. Such a pity he wasn't retained by the powers that be instead of Smith. Most would prefer Smith played for England and not SA while KP and Trott plied their trade for the Proteas.

  • Brit - 2009-12-23 16:36

    @Abbey. I enjoyed your comments but as a Brit I am pleased that we have KP and you have Smith.

  • marco - 2009-12-23 16:52

    Drop Ntini for the next 3 games in the series is not only right but its makes common sense.Playing him makes no sense at all.Friedel DeWet proved himself not only fit but well and truly able to replace Ntini.Its the right and obvious decision for Greame Smith and Mickey Athur to make.Friedel can contribute with bat as well as was case in his first innings at centurion.Morne Morkel has questions hanging over his head(no balls etc) but he does add a little more pace to the side with his bouncers he balls than some of the others which makes batmen uncomfortable and besides Kallis seems like he can bowl now which gives the Proteas added strenght.So yes if Dale's back the Ntini's out without a doubt in my opnion.

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