Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
SA’s Cup squad light in middle
Cape Town – Few will be able to find fault with the Proteas squad in terms of its spin bowling arsenal for the 2011 World Cup on the Subcontinent, which is so often tailor-made for the art.
The 15-man party named late on Tuesday for the premier one-day jamboree is unusually brimful of options in that regard, even if not all hugely proven ones.
The likely first-choice slow bowler, Johan Botha, is joined by the great “mystery factor” – Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir – as well as the ever-thereabouts Robin Peterson plus part-time contributors in the form of JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis.
Of course it is just not in the modern South African mindset to aggressively encourage spinners, so how often and how many of them are actually gainfully employed at the tournament remains a matter to be monitored.
But if this department is at least heavily stocked, one or two others look worryingly lightweight.
A glaring one, I believe, remains the middle-to-lower-order batting, which once again proved an Achilles Heel as the Proteas slipped to a second successive defeat to weakened India at Newlands here shortly before the squad was revealed.
Has this been properly addressed in the make-up of the World Cup squad? Perhaps not ... big-hitting young KwaZulu-Natalian David Miller is the big casualty, missing out on the trip altogether after also being ousted by successful debutant Du Plessis for the third ODI against the Indians.
And there is also no place for someone like Albie Morkel, an all-rounder capable of smacking a very long ball at around No 7 in the order, in the best tradition of predecessors like Shaun Pollock, Justin Kemp or Lance Klusener.
A curious bit of consolation for Morkel is that he has been reintroduced to the mix for the remaining two, must-win ODIs against India at Port Elizabeth and Centurion.
It seems that the Proteas, on occasions, plan to risk fielding a longish tail – and one low on power-hitters – at the World Cup in the hope that their top-order stars go “big” and at least one of them virtually bats through the innings.
Another area that could prove problematic is the death bowling: who is going to spear in the yorkers in the critical late overs in the absence of known specialists like Charl Langeveldt – probably a bit long in the tooth now , it is true – or young buck Rusty Theron?
The big comfort for South Africans (and frankly this was an easy matter for Andrew Hudson and his co-selectors) is the strength and experience of the “cream” batting, comprising captain Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy – their role will be priceless if the Proteas are to prosper.
Without wishing to sound overly dramatic or pessimistic, if the top-order inexplicably struggles, the Proteas could find themselves in a heap of tournament pain.
Also sensible is the presence of a competent second wicketkeeper in the shape of Morne van Wyk, who could also be summoned as a batsman only if the need arises.
There will be plenty of people lamenting the non-selection of that old street-scrapper Mark Boucher, but maybe he was not considered because of the slightly awkward dynamic of De Villiers now supposedly being the designated No 1 gloveman in one-day cricket and the supposed “moving on” from Boucher.
Still, the veteran might have been handy not just because of his coolness as a potential batting finisher but also his proven pedigree behind the stumps – especially in conditions where standing up at the stumps may be a fairly routine occurrence.
Other debatable choices include left-arm seamer Wayne Parnell and Colin Ingram, the left-handed batsman who has not yet convinced in this series – although his role will apparently be lower down the order at the World Cup.
Clearly the selectors have “invested” in Ingram and that is a phenomenon sometimes to be lauded, especially if the policy gradually shows good fruit.
Parnell is perhaps a greater concern. He has lost much of his bowling mojo at a bad time, and his last two ODI performances in India also provide sobering reading – successive figures of 9-0-69-1 in Jaipur and 10-0-95-2 in Gwalior less than a year ago.
The squad is significantly changed from the one which did duty at the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies and exited in the semi-finals to Australia: there are only four survivors in Smith, Kallis, Peterson and De Villiers.
For the transformation-conscious, the 2011 party has one less player of colour (there are six) than four years previously when Roger Telemachus, most notably, was an unfortunate, glaring “passenger”.
With a bit of luck, everybody will make a contribution this time ...South Africa squad:
Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Johan Botha, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Colin Ingram, Robin Peterson, Imran Tahir, Morne van Wyk.