Roelof: Bulldog loses bite
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Roelof van der Merwe (Gallo)
Cape Town – Back in March 2009, Roelof van der Merwe’s cricketing world seemed wonderful.
It was then that the belligerent, competitive, supposed all-rounder made his debut for South Africa in a Twenty20 international against bitter rivals Australia at his franchise home ground in Centurion.
Van der Merwe arrived quite literally with a bang, not to mention a wallop too: using his trademark “golf tee-off” shot to great effect – where you think he is going to blast it over midwicket and the ball somehow ends up in the stands behind third man -- he smacked 48 off 30 balls and then returned a tidy enough 4-0-30-1 with his left-arm spinners to be named man-of-the-match in a Proteas win.
It was a fairytale start.
His bulldog, up-and-at-‘em spirit quickly won over many South African enthusiasts, who expected him to bank a long-term place in the country’s broad limited-overs plans.
Instead Van der Merwe suddenly finds himself out in the cold after a decidedly “unlucky 13” appearances in both T20 internationals and ODIs.
He was one of the big losers when the national selectors on Tuesday named squads for various looming tasks in all three major formats, sacrificing his place in both one-day squads to the considerably more experienced Robin Peterson.
Mark Boucher was another: the veteran wicketkeeper, already eased out of the T20 picture, now finds himself contentiously surplus to requirements for the ODI squad as well.
But at least he keeps his wholly rightful Test slot.
“Roela” is not quite so lucky, now completely out of the international arena for the time being, and may feel miffed at his demise after faring decently in his last game for the Proteas: the fifth ODI against West Indies at Port of Spain in early June, when he bowled a tight spell of 10-1-27-1 and was at the crease when South Africa scrambled the winning runs in a tense finish to complete a 5-0 sweep.
In truth, though, the bubble had already begun to burst a little for Van der Merwe, with some tell-tale signs that he was being found out on both batting and bowling fronts by quality opponents.
He had a poor ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, bowling just seven overs in three matches at a cost of 67 runs although, in fairness, he wasn’t the only South African to fire blanks there.
In ODIs, meanwhile, a team like England seemed to productively discover that his bark was worse than his bite, smashing him to the proverbial smithereens in several games.
As far as Van der Merwe’s batting was concerned, increasingly he looked too much like a happy-go-lucky tail-end slogger, rather than fully-fledged allrounder, and that whirlwind T20 knock against the Aussies certainly looked – based on subsequent statistics – suspiciously like a flash in the pan.
Ironically Peterson’s last T20 appearance for the Proteas had come in the very game where Van der Merwe debuted against Australia. On that occasion, the more acceptably “genuine” all-rounder opened the batting and registered a decent 34 off 27 balls.
Having abandoned Kolpak status, the restoration of the Cape Cobras’ Peterson will not earn universal approval, especially when you look at his bowling average from 35 ODIs – 17 scalps at 58.35.
But there is also a school of thought, presumably including the national brains trust and coach Corrie van Zyl, who feel Peterson is an increasingly smarter cricketer at 31 and has arguably not had a proper “run” of activity for South Africa. He also uses both of his hands and arms unusually deftly in the field.
Peterson is not a bad choice at all; I have always had a good gut feel myself about his various abilities, and the possibility that he may prove a late bloomer.
Meanwhile Van der Merwe, at 25, is young enough to battle his way back if he looks spiritedly at improving his skills in a few areas.
Still, if the selectors were going to ditch one rather “hit-or-miss”, technically-questionable cricketer in Van der Merwe, they should have chopped another especially glaring one in Loots Bosman, who comes off way too sporadically as a bludgeoner at the top of the order and really ought to have made way for riotously in-form Davy Jacobs in the T20 group.
That is the really daft selection feature …