Pakistan in SA

Proteas: Powerful Test 2nd XI?

2013-02-25 11:45
Graeme Smith (Gallo)
Cape Town – Fresh from a whitewash, records-laden home Test summer, South Africa’s current strength in depth is such that they could feasibly field a second XI which – especially at home – would be too great a handful for most countries who play the five-day game.

Graeme Smith’s No 1-ranked Proteas, increasingly secure in that status, stand unbeaten in a landmark 15 Test matches at the end of their 2012/13 programme.

The 3-0 clean sweep of fifth-ranked Pakistan, completed in emphatic fashion by an innings on day three of the third Test at Centurion on Sunday, leaves them as many as 10 rating points (128 as opposed to 118) ahead of second-placed England.

VIDEO: SA v Pakistan, third Test day 3, highlights

Australia lie third and frankly, given the way teams from the Subcontinent traditionally struggle in South African conditions, any side below that slot -- including supposed superpower India in fourth? -- would arguably be vulnerable to series defeat here by a Proteas second-choice combination.

Let us assume that, with all candidates fit (the versatile JP Duminy should be ready again by mid-year), South Africa’s first-choice Test side looks like this: Smith (capt), Petersen, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Du Plessis, Duminy, Peterson, Philander, Steyn, Morkel.

Now let’s pretend that, for whatever reason, that entire team suddenly became unavailable for selection, so South Africa’s brains trust find themselves having to scramble together a substitute Test outfit.

Bear in mind that you wouldn’t wish to simply pick a SA ‘A’ side: in other words, you wouldn’t just automatically fill your side with promising youngsters or players who have shone in the latest Sunfoil Series -- although those would be at least partial, helpful yardsticks.

You would also require some gnarly, Test-proven substitutes to fill some particularly illustrious shoes, even if their domestic form had been pretty dicey.

Players who fall into that, unusually run-shy category right now would include current, extended SA squad batting element Jacques Rudolph plus the veteran Ashwell Prince – these men boast 17 Test centuries and 114 caps between them, so you would require their street wisdom in the hurried void, I fancy.

Similarly, the remarkably durable Neil McKenzie would make my cut: I’d want him not only to reprise in the “emergency” landscape the role as opening batsman he performed with some aplomb alongside Smith a few years ago, but also lead the troops.

McKenzie may be 37 – that just makes him the “Jacques Kallis” of my second XI –but his domestic form across the competitions continues to be exemplary and he averaged 51.73 for the Lions in the Sunfoil Series season.

So those would be the essential, balancing three wise men of my batting lineup; the rest of the team would generally look a lot more youthful yet also not have to sport too many outright rookies.

My only debutant batsman, in fact, would be the Cape Cobras’ undoubtedly gifted Stiaan van Zyl for the No 3 slot; he has just come off a particularly productive Sunfoil Series where he averaged 61.18.

Just as AB de Villiers has now warmed amazingly well to his dual duty as wicketkeeper and key batsman, I would field the altogether more greenhorn, yet not dissimilar in several respects, Quinton de Kock as gloveman and No 5 stroke-player.

Let’s get the spinner’s berth out of the way before we consider the incredible battery of pace and seam candidates ... even minus Messrs Steyn, Philander and so on.

Imran Tahir gets his crack at redemption for his unfortunate pasting in Australia (here’s hoping the phantom, SA-staged series we’re picking for doesn’t feature the Baggy Greens), and I am comfortable enough to see him back in the frame, and employed primarily in an attacking capacity.

Ryan McLaren occupies the “gateway”, all-rounder’s No 7 slot between the main batsmen and specialist fast-bowling arsenal; he is competent enough with the bat and might be expected to be the pretty tight, holding-type fourth seamer in the team although he retains potential for good harvests himself.

The front-line three? Well, no wonder bowling guru, CSA High Performance Manager and former Proteas assistant coach Vincent Barnes saw fit to use the hash-tag “pipelineispumping” while congratulating, via Twitter on Sunday, Kyle Abbott for his player-of-the-match award on dream Test debut at SuperSport Park.

He’d be an exciting shoe-in, as would be the “heavy-ball” skills of Rory Kleinveldt, who continues to perform with some aplomb whenever required to fill an injury-linked hole in the Proteas team – the burly customer went narrowly past the edge of the bat umpteen times in the final Test against the Pakistanis, warranting more than the two wickets he got.

Fit-again thunderbolt Marchant de Lange, even as he feels his way back into the game after his long, stress fracture-related layoff and gets to grips with a slightly reworked action, also cracks the nod although only by a short head from Chris Morris, who would ensure stronger tail-end batting potential.

Notable for its remarkable weight in left-handed batsmen this, then, might be my SA second XI Test team, in likely batting order: Neil McKenzie (capt), Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl, Jacques Rudolph, Quinton de Kock, Ashwell Prince, Ryan McLaren, Kyle Abbott, Rory Kleinveldt, Marchant de Lange, Imran Tahir.

The only notable weakness, perhaps, would be the batting tapering off a bit more than you might like after No 7, although both Abbott and Kleinveldt are capable of cranking up their levels of responsibility with the blade.

Others in contention for the side, only further illustrating the treasure trove of current SA resources, would include the likes of Morris, Rilee Rossouw, Colin Ingram, Andrew Puttick, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Wayne Parnell and Andrew Birch.

My team might not be world-beaters in the manner of the current top SA XI, but they also wouldn’t play roll-over ... to anyone?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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