Faf-free SA look brittle

2015-01-13 10:19
Faf du Plessis (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

Cape Town – Attractive team-change solutions to their problems of the last few days are in pretty short supply for the Proteas as they prepare for the dead-rubber final Twenty20 international against West Indies at Kingsmead on Wednesday (18:00).

That situation has been greatly aggravated by the announcement on Tuesday that captain Faf du Plessis, sizzling century-maker on Sunday, will be rested with bigger-picture ODI needs very shortly in mind; eternally in-and-out international Justin Ontong takes brief charge and Reeza Hendricks will presumably be reinstated at the front of the order.

The tourists have already clinched the series spoils courtesy of respective Chris Gayle-powered wins at Newlands and the Wanderers, and the hosts will be playing for pride and the opportunity to stave off a maiden clean sweep of losses in a three-match T20 bilateral roster.

South Africa have played in six previous three-game series, but never lost every single contest: the closest they came was probably in 2013/14 when the visiting Australians won 2-0 with one washout at Port Elizabeth.

So there is that reputation to preserve, even if the Caribbean outfit will deservedly go in as favourites once more – especially given the Du Plessis no-show.

Unfortunately the experimental SA squad find themselves in that “just how do we stop these guys?” sort of mental territory right now, considering the massive improvement in their batting at the Bullring – from 165 for four at Newlands to 231 for seven -- only to be eclipsed again anyway in their attempted defence in the field.

For the Johannesburg game, the Proteas responded – positively, for the most part – to the Capetonian reverse by making three alterations, introducing Marchant de Lange, Aaron Phangiso and Justin Ontong for Wayne Parnell, Hendricks and Kagiso Rabada.

It meant that all 14 active members of the squad (a 15th, JP Duminy, has been in the party largely rehabbing from injury for planned introduction to the ODI phase from Friday) have now had at least one game each.

But question marks remain around the degree of oomph of several players and a further bout of wholesale switches on Wednesday isn’t necessarily going to be the magic wand desired -- it is a bit of a much-of-a-muchness situation for coach Russell Domingo and company.

In broadest terms, the batting line-up could be said to have collectively come off at the Wanderers, where on any other day 231 would have been a passport to success.

Morne van Wyk has not set the world alight up top, holing out particularly tamely for four on Sunday, but he is the only wicketkeeper in the group and as Kingsmead is also the veteran’s franchise home ground, presumably he stays for the third game.

There were also issues at the Bullring over Farhaan Behardien, a relatively borderline selection to the World Cup squad who fatally laboured to get the ball off the square in a scratchy 12-ball knock for eight not out near the climax of the home innings.

He is a possible candidate to sit out Kingsmead, although the Proteas also have to be wary of sporting too long a tail if there happen to be mass failings nearer the front of the order.

The genuine pace merchant De Lange bowled with predictable gusto on Sunday, and although he took some tap with the rest, he also went past the outside edge a fair few times; he should stay in the side.

Kingsmead under lights, with humidity to be taken into account as well, usually means it is better to stock your attack with a greater emphasis on seamers than spinners, so playing both Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso seems a luxury: the latter, although reasonably solid under the difficult circumstances at the Wanderers, may make way?

That opens a returning berth for either of Parnell or Rabada, with the former’s superior street-wisdom perhaps earning him the nod especially if swing looks on offer on the night – he would also slightly stiffen a reasonably fragile-looking tail on paper at the Bullring.

There is a case, additionally, for saying Parnell needs every opportunity he can get to recapture some overdue mojo with the World Cup in mind, where he doesn’t seem a Proteas first-teamer at this stage but may have to occupy an emergency role if a front-line paceman goes down injured during the lengthy tournament.

But hang on, what about Kyle Abbott, then? Guilty of travelling for the most expensive four-over quota of runs ever (68) in the Big Smoke, he’s under a cruel spotlight.

Yet the big-hearted, Empangeni-born competitor should instead be tasked with proving he can put such a – freakish, let’s face it -- setback behind him swiftly, and his particular brand of bowling is valuable in Durban conditions.

Don’t preclude the possibility of a really concerted bounce-back by him.

Given the limited options, this is a possible SA side on Wednesday: Reeza Henricks, Morne van Wyk, Rilee Rossouw, David Miller, Justin Ontong (capt), Farhaan Behardien, David Wiese, Wayne Parnell, Kyle Abbott, Marchant de Lange, Imran Tahir.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  faf du plessis  |  cricket

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