India in SA

Vernon to deepen India woe?

2013-12-06 06:36
Vernon Philander (AFP Photo)

Cape Town – The Proteas will understandably be reluctant to tamper too much, if at all, with their line-up which was too hot for India to handle in the first one-day international at the Wanderers on Friday.

But they have an opportunity to quickly put the mini-series against the World Cup champions to bed in their favour if they triumph in Sunday’s second encounter at Kingsmead, and may have to make some allowance for different conditions at the coast.

For one thing, it is a daytime game this time, plus the pitch may not provide quite the bounce and pace Dale Steyn and company so revelled in at the Bullring where key psychological – and some associated, thudding physical – blows were struck for the summer hostilities between these countries as a whole.

Durban, though is tipped at this stage to be mostly cloudy and typically sultry for the follow-up clash, so some sideways movement is potentially on the cards for seamers and good control ought also to be rewarded.

Under such circumstances, South Africa should think very seriously about tweaking their bowling resources to facilitate the inclusion of Test ace Vernon Philander at the expense, perhaps, of one of the left-arm speedsters Lonwabo Tsotsobe or Wayne Parnell.

Outside of the exemplary Steyn (who picked up three second-spell scalps in Johannesburg and was unlucky, frankly, not to have grabbed a “six-for”) and also the aggressive but suitably disciplined Morne Morkel, the Proteas’ strongly-stocked pace department was inclined toward erratic characteristics even in the immensely satisfying, thumping win by 141 runs.

The home team gave away an unacceptable 24 runs in wides, with Ryan McLaren (eight) and Parnell (six) special offenders.

McLaren, however, did also pick up three wickets, including the world’s top-ranked ODI batsman Virat Kohli as he was starting to look fairly dangerous, and his bowling may be well suited to the Kingsmead attempt at a series kill-off before the return to a Highveld scenario at Centurion.

The addition of Philander, if he has overcome a shoulder niggle, could only tighten up the Proteas’ attack and make it even more difficult for India’s stroke-players to prosper.

A combination of assault and battery and minimal offering of “boundary” balls tends to be a sure-fire way of keeping a lid on scoring rates and Philander offers great qualities in the last-named area.

He was in excellent touch in his own last ODI appearance last weekend, the dead-rubber victory over Pakistan at SuperSport Park where he claimed figures of 3/26 in a full 10-over quota, and every time he has appeared in the format this season he has looked very much at home.

As former national captain Kepler Wessels noted after the near-merciless Wanderers win, nobody in the current Proteas XI can afford to cruise because there are some good players in the broader squad champing at the bit for game-time.

Philander, if fit, certainly fits that category; he offers better credentials than Tsotsobe both as batsman and fielder, and doesn’t significantly weaken the lower-order around the No 8 spot if he replaces Parnell.

Nobody below No 6 got a bat anyway at the Wanderers, where all but Jacques Kallis of the frontline batsmen came off in a no-nonsense way and South Africa went past 300 – and then some! – for the first time in 17 ODIs.

Another quality customer presently in the wings is the massively experienced Graeme Smith, let’s not forget, yet for the time being there is no way the Hashim Amla-Quinton de Kock alliance up front can be disturbed.

The 20-year-old De Kock is in it for the long haul, it seems, after registering his second ODI century in less than a month and playing with quite exhilarating freedom and natural talent once more – he can improvise and take audacious risks but he is also capable of textbook, non-flamboyant shots to please the most demanding of purists.

Mark Boucher, most certainly in a well-meaning way, suggested to this writer a few days ago that we should “hit the brakes a bit” in raising expectations of De Kock too quickly ... but at the same time a rival school of thought may well be thinking the accelerator is actually the more appropriate pedal and that a special player is well on the brew.

It is true that his wicketkeeping, while brimful of potential as well, still has some faults and he put down another regulation catch off Morkel’s bowling at the Wanderers, just suggesting a slight hard-handedness in his pouching style.

He was distraught at the time but did not let it put him down in the dumps for long, either, which is a sign of a rookie with a good ticker ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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