Cape Town – The Proteas appear to have discovered their most
suitable combination, in handy time for Friday’s key closing group match
against West Indies at Cardiff in the ICC Champions Trophy.
GALLERY: Proteas v Pakistan
Mostly for injury- or unavailability-related reasons, South
Africa’s one-day international line-up has looked anything but settled of late,
not just at this tournament so far but also a bit before it.
But the brains trust are likely to be thinking “stability”
with welcome conviction as they prepare for the challenge of the slowly
improving Caribbean side, given the overwhelmingly satisfying 67-run victory
over Pakistan before what virtually amounted to a home audience for the losing
side at Edgbaston on Monday.
The equation may be pretty simple: if Test cricket’s
long-time No 1-ranked bowler Dale Steyn is considered suitably fit for a
belated start to the event, he will come in probably at the expense of
inexperienced left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso, who nevertheless bowled with
fair aplomb at Birmingham.
It is very seldom that South Africa enter an ODI with only
three seam bowlers, which they did against Pakistan quite shrewdly, given the
slow and gripping state of the pitch which meant their unusual reliance on a
three-pronged spin assault paid off rather nicely.
But with no Jacques Kallis at their disposal to provide that
more customary fourth element, at least, to the pace arsenal, it is unlikely
that they will risk being so light in that department at Sophia Gardens – and
that despite how heroically the relatively green alliance of Lonwabo Tsotsobe,
Chris Morris and Ryan McLaren performed in Monday’s massively necessary win.
All of that trio clearly deserve retention against West
Indies, with Steyn possibly adding his own well-known wiles and cutting edge to
form a strong quartet; he is reportedly bowling in the nets again and captain
AB de Villiers is upbeat about his chances -- although television pundit and
former national captain Shaun Pollock, who knows a thing or two about niggling
side strains, isn’t so convinced the Phalaborwa Express will be ready.
Should Steyn get the all-clear, Robin Peterson and JP Duminy
would still represent decent enough options on the slow-bowling front on Friday
if Phangiso returns to the sidelines.
There is also the chance that even if Steyn stays curtailed to
wearing a training bib on match day, South Africa may wish to give Rory
Kleinveldt a shot at redemption -- again at the expense of Phangiso -- at the
venue where he and Lonwabo Tsotsobe were slapped around with near-contempt in
the opening fixture against India.
Tsotsobe responded magnificently at Edgbaston, not only
delivering his main trade with discipline and purpose, but also making a
commendable bid to look less of a liability in the field; he was livid with
himself on the one occasion he lapsed and allowed a ball to squirt behind him
for a boundary, although in the plus column he did take a sharp, low
caught-and-bowled for such a tall man.
Kleinveldt has also shown before on national duty, albeit at
Test level, that he is capable of shrugging off a disappointing showing with
gutsy “bounce-backability” the next time.
Unlike abrasive Edgbaston, the strip in Cardiff still
requires a standard, full seam attack, as evidenced in the low-scoring thriller
between New Zealand and Sri Lanka a few days back, where the best respective
hauls went to the Black Caps’ emerging left-arm quickie Mitchell McClenaghan
(4/43) and the Lankans’ revered toe-crusher specialist Lasith “Slinger” Malinga
The Proteas certainly didn’t crash to India at the ground
because their attack was over-loaded with faster men: it was because the bulk
of those players scandalously didn’t hit the correct lengths that day.
As far as the batting line-up is concerned, some question
marks still surround Colin Ingram’s suitablity at the top of the order, but the
20 the left-hander scored against Pakistan in a measured, half-century
first-wicket stand with Hashim Amla was more like a 40 for value at the time in
seeing off the twin hard-ball threat early on.
So my long-range tip for Cardiff, where cool and cloudy conditions
with some rain are on the cards on Friday, is a Proteas side altered by just
one slot from the line-up which revitalised their campaign in Birmingham –
Phangiso probably making way for one of Steyn or Kleinveldt.
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