Cape Town – Some 15 months after legendary all-rounder Jacques Kallis played the last of his 328 one-day internationals against Sri Lanka at Hambantota, the Proteas have still been grappling with balancing issues in their limited-overs side.
There have been gradually more encouraging signs lately that the combination of middle-order batsmen JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien as the fifth bowler – a particularly vexing matter – is a dependable enough solution, at least for the immediate future.
But just as they face a potentially historic, series-clinching showdown with India in the fourth ODI at Chennai on Thursday (10:00 SA time), an inconvenience of some magnitude has afflicted them: experienced Duminy being ruled out of both of the last two fixtures through injury.
The Proteas, 2-1 to the good, need to win just one of them to become the first South African team to win a bilateral one-day series there.
But the loss of Duminy to a hand laceration – the major medical task now is to have him ready for the marathon Test series – has thrown a selection spanner into the works.
There is every chance that had the diminutive stroke-player been available, South Africa’s brains trust would have stuck (at least for Thursday’s game) to the same XI that has played every contest so far.
But now the absence of Duminy, the established main ODI all-rounder in the post-Kallis period, causes a headache in team composition.
If they opt to simply replace him with an out-and-out batsman, that player would automatically be Khaya Zondo, the still uncapped squad member from the Dolphins, given that all the other “reserve” men available are primarily bowlers.
But it would also mean the dangerous situation of Behardien, albeit much more assertive and comfortable at the crease of late, having to largely become the fifth bowling element on his own.
Yet the most overs he has ever bowled in any game in his 34-match ODI career are eight (on three different occasions, but none ever involving the Subcontinent) and even that tally is well beyond his normal consignment.
There is the option of drafting back in someone like Chris Morris, to restore a recognised fifth bowler, although it would also mean he would have to bat as high as No 7, just behind Behardien, and at this stage do little to ease the perception that the Proteas have too lengthy a tail.
If they do decide to go the Zondo route, it is worth bearing in mind that he has some minor off-spinning credentials, with 11 wickets to his credit at List A level.
But he does very little bowling, in truth, and in a place like India, at the highest level, could be seriously shown up in a shared quota of 10 overs with slow medium-pacer Behardien.
That might even force multi-talented AB de Villiers, the Proteas’ captain, into turning his arm over again, but you’d think he will have enough on his plate in Thursday’s high-stakes encounter.
So the best solution could be to fast-track nuggety Dean Elgar, who has been roped in hastily as Duminy’s squad replacement, straight into the first team.
He bowls flattish, not hugely turning left-arm spin, but is pretty disciplined and accurate enough at it and already bowled at both Test and ODI level previously; the now Titans-based Elgar also sports 48 one-day scalps domestically.
Form at the crease is encouraging in his case, too – he has registered half-centuries in each of his last two innings over the past few days (at Newlands and SuperSport Park) in the Momentum One-Day Cup.
You just sense he adds a bit of welcome “bottle” for a crucial match if chosen ...
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