Cape Town – South Africa have issues again over spin bowling.
Only this time it’s different, as we’re not talking poverty
of resources for a change: their two front-liners in one-day internationals are
delivering such consistently tidy performances that it is probably tough for
the team’s brains trust to decide who exactly the main man is.
Certainly on the evidence of the Proteas’ encouraging
conquest in the triangular series in Zimbabwe recently -- where they knocked
over old foes Australia twice in three meetings, including the final – a battle
royale is developing between Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso for that mantle.
It is a strangely healthy state of affairs, and not the
worst development bearing in mind the five-month countdown now to the next World
With established batsman JP Duminy still a regular, supplementary
contributor with his off-spin, it is pretty likely that South Africa will only
need one specialist slow bowler per match at the keynote Australasian-staged
That raises the question not only of which of the in-form
pair to give the most employment to at the World Cup (assuming they’ve retained
their mojo ahead of it), but also whether it is justifiable more broadly to
take both Tahir and Phangiso among the traditional 15-strong squad.
Pace and seam bases, of course, will also need to be properly
At the last World Cup in 2011, where the Proteas blew out at
the quarter-final stage, no fewer than three were accommodated in the squad:
Tahir, Robin Peterson and the now Aussie-based Johan Botha.
But that was because the tournament was staged on the
notably spin-friendly Subcontinent; in Australia and New Zealand pitch
conditions will be decidedly different even if the slow craft certainly can
still have a strong role to play at times.
A personal hunch is that if both Tahir and Phangiso continue
to impress -- either in tandem or separately -- in ODI obligations in the
lead-up months (against New Zealand and Australia away, plus West Indies at
home) then both may somehow be squeezed into the CWC squad brew.
One reason for suggesting it may be feasible is that they
are such different beasts, and that a horses-for-courses policy might serve the
In short, left-armer Phangiso is a fairly traditional
defensive weapon in the 50-overs format, relying more on accuracy and
variations of pace and flight than really pronounced turn ... and he’s doing
his stock stuff increasingly decently.
The box-of-tricks character, by contrast, remains
leg-spinner Tahir, the likelier “strike” factor with his variety of deliveries,
including devilish, skiddy straight balls and a well-established wrong ‘un that
both tail-enders and certain specialist batsmen alike can struggle to read.
This animated, journeyman cricketer will always be prone to
the odd full-toss or long hop, and it is one explanation for his Test record
being notably fickle, but in ODIs this year his discipline has generally been
something of a revelation – it is some time since he took a genuine walloping
and he continues to snap up wickets at vital times of opponents’ innings.
Tahir can be said to have settled into the ODI environment
after 22 appearances for his adopted country, in which he has grabbed 42 scalps
at an average of 18.92 and not-to-be-sneezed-at economy rate of 4.25.
Phangiso has 14 wickets at 34.21 from a total of 12 ODIs, with
economy of 4.44, but it is instructive that his last seven games for the
Proteas, all this year, have seen him be infinitely less “leaky” than his
tentative first five, all in the 2013 calendar year.
He travelled at five runs or more to the over in every game
he played last year, whereas in the current one he is conceding at below five
runs to the over without fail, and on four of those occasions an especially
praiseworthy less than four.
Yes, you may argue that five of his seven fixtures in 2014
have come against lowly Zimbabwe, but the southern African neighbours were also
much more competitive in the triangular than most critics would have imagined.
The 30-year-old from Garankuwa, north of Pretoria, also
ticked two enlightening boxes by not being collared by the ever-cavalier
Australian strokeplayers, turning in two full stints against them without
conceding 40 runs in either.
You would be fully entitled to submit that his on-the-up
performances happily transcend any political considerations, but it is also an
inescapable truth this week that Government agitation is mounting speedily on
the sports transformation front, particularly with regard to the demand for far
bigger black African representation in major national teams.
So Phangiso’s strides are timely, considering the strong likelihood
that South Africa’s showcase World Cup squad will not be allowed to be minus at
least one cricketer fulfilling that criterion. The way things are going, he
should only earn his ticket most majestically on merit.
To re-emphasise their excellence, here are the 2014 ODI
analyses of both Tahir and Phangiso:
7-0-50-3 v Sri Lanka, Colombo
10-1-41-2 v Sri Lanka, Pallekele
10-0-29-1 v Sri Lanka, Hambantota
10-1-44-3 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo
9-1-26-2 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo
10-0-45-2 v Australia, Harare
8-0-32-1 v Zimbabwe, Harare
10-0-42-1 v Australia, Harare
10-0-40-1 v Australia, Harare
9.5-0-43-3 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo
8-2-34-1 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo
6-1-13-1 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo
8-0-33-2 v Zimbabwe, Harare
10-0-39-2 v Australia, Harare
10-0-38-1 v Zimbabwe, Harare
10-0-36-0 v Australia, Harare
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