Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
SA T20 selection riddle
Cape Town – Narrowing down South Africa’s provisional, 30-strong ICC World Twenty20 squad to the final 15 this month is going to be a decidedly tricky exercise.
And that is not just because slashing any extended group by exactly half is seldom straightforward anyway.
The process comes at a time when the relative clarity we all had over the Proteas’ best one-day resources a year ago has suddenly become much more blurred after a season of split-personality showings by the national side in the limited-overs arena.
In a nutshell, there are probably far fewer shoo-ins for the trek to the Caribbean in late April than many would like.
When I ran my own finger over the 30 provisional names, I came up with only about eight whom I suspect will definitely travel: seasoned Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis as the already confirmed captain and vice-captain respectively, plus Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn and Roelof van der Merwe.
Even then, some critics might suggest someone like Amla, a sensation of late in Tests, is not ideally suited to the “super-abbreviated” format, although I believe his orthodoxy and ever-increasing general cricketing acumen will give crucial balance and stability to the squad.
Parnell continues to be notably expensive at times, but his wicket-taking ability – not to mention plain, raw talent and endurance -- is not in question and I would think he must still be considered the top candidate for left-arm seam variety ahead of burly “T20 specialist” Yusuf Abdulla and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Both of the last two offer rather less with the bat and as fielders, too.
Van der Merwe? He may just have leapfrogged Johan Botha, based on fortunes in the surrendered ODI series in India, for main spinner’s berth, although more than one exponent of this trade will almost certainly be needed in the West Indies anyway.
In that respect, JP Duminy is a major head-scratcher for the wise men: his off-spin remains a decent feather in his cap, but is he perhaps just too spooked as a batsman at present to be considered a truly viable candidate for the tournament? The next few weeks (read: Indian Premier League) may tell us more.
The quandary certainly doesn’t end there: there’s also the debate about whether both moody but potentially match-winning “blasters”, Herschelle Gibbs and Loots Bosman, can be accommodated in the same team or squad – I’m more inclined to say “aye” for Twenty20 than I am for conventional ODIs.
Then there are also several much-of-a-muchness customers on the bowling all-rounder front, those in the 30 including all of Rusty Theron (often encouragingly unflappable at the “death” in domestic one-day games this summer, it must be said), Ryan McLaren, Vernon Philander, Rory Kleinveldt and Johann van der Wath.
The last-named player is an interesting inclusion in the extended party, along with a fellow former ICL “rebel” in Justin Kemp: they offer bag-loads in the way of experience, not to mention a relish for clubbing the ball high up into the cheap seats.
Or should there be greater emphasis on blooding a few rookies who might amount to handy, mystery packages against South Africa’s foes at the event?
In that respect I enthusiastically greeted the interim call-ups for the Warriors’ Colin Ingram and David Miller of the Dolphins, who could become a real bums-on-seats batsman in one-day cricket like Adrian Kuiper once was, albeit that the 20-year-old is a left-hander.
But wait … there’s more! It’s not even about simply picking the generally “best” 15 from the 30 – horses for courses is an important consideration for any assignment in the West Indies, where many pitches these days seem better suited to hosting wakes than wham-bam T20 cricket contests.
I know Port of Spain gets a wide berth for the tournament, but it arguably still provides a tell-tale clue as to broader Caribbean conditions in 2010, and the T20 international there a few days ago (Zimbabwe 105 all out in 19.5 overs, West Indies a farcical 79 for seven in a full 20 in reply) may be a harbinger of “difficult” pitches for the world jamboree.
The tournament is to be played in a triangle involving Beausejour Stadium, St Lucia, Providence Stadium, Guyana, and the refurbished Kensington Oval in Barbados.
All sport pretty “new” strips but recent one-day records suggest even these aren’t guaranteed to provide blissful “come on” for batsmen and carry and bounce for bowlers.
Seasoned, street-smart players are likelier to prosper, I reckon, but then you also have to ensure your side doesn’t look too Dad’s Army-like in this format, either, don’t you?
Best of luck to the Proteas brains-trust in their complex trimming process, is all I can say …