SA’s spinner: 3-way duel

2014-11-24 12:02
Imran Tahir (AFP)

Cape Town – Three candidates, one place ... that is the likely scenario for the specialist spinning berth in South Africa’s World Cup 2015 squad.

There are other headaches for the selectors and coaching staff to deal with in the wake of the disappointing 4-1 ODI series surrender to Australia -- main host nation for the CWC jamboree from mid-February – but sorting out that specific slot could be a particularly tough one.

It is less because of an embarrassment of riches, perhaps, than it is about finding the right man from a trio of currently moderate, but quite closely-matched candidates who each bring strengths and drawbacks to the party.

Those three are Robin Peterson, the incumbent, plus Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso, both of whom are currently nursing injuries but likely to be ready well in time for World Cup consideration.

It is highly unlikely the wise men will see fit to include two out-and-out spinners for Australian and New Zealand conditions, because batsman JP Duminy, touch wood, will have completed his own rehabilitation from injury and provide the second option on that front with his off-spinners – it ought be more than sufficient for the Proteas.

So the three-way scrap between Peterson, Tahir and Phangiso is almost certainly for one passage.

Ahead of the latest series, with its undesirable outcome, leggie Tahir seemed fairly nailed down in the main spinner’s berth – it needs to be remembered that he did well in the victorious New Zealand mini-series immediately before it and a few SA World Cup fixtures will be played there.

His ODI statistics remain very good and his biggest strength is his ability to take wickets in the middle phase of opposition innings, with his free-spirited mixture of the conventional and prodigious use of wrong and straight ‘uns.

But he brings risks because he can be prone to attack on a wayward day – and sometimes not even that – and the Aussie batsmen generally had his measure pretty comfortably until his knee injury curtailed his series a few days back.

Tahir managed just one wicket in three bowling efforts and twice did not complete 10-over spells; he is also an inconsistent fielder and no natural athlete in that regard, whilst his batting is that of a typical hit-or-miss No 11.

As the leg-spinner’s series was cut short, the never-say-die Peterson stepped into the hole decently, culminating in a heroic “death” spell of bowling with welcome, ice-cool body language as the Proteas almost stole the fifth ODI in Sydney on Sunday from a situation where a real walloping had seemed on the cards only a few overs earlier.

As he gets older and wiser, Peterson simultaneously gets more varied and skilful, even if it is no secret that he is not a prodigious turner of the ball unless conditions truly facilitate that.

He is also capable of either working the ball around deftly at the crease or using the long handle, something not present in enough South African tail-enders these days in the 50-overs arena, while his fielding stays largely top-notch despite his advancing years.

The claims of Phangiso cannot be brushed aside, simply because he has been sidelined since late October with a middle-finger injury that should see him back for his Lions franchise quite shortly.

People can have short memories, and it was only a few weeks ago that he looked the business for run-strangulation in the triangular series in Zimbabwe, won by the Proteas: included by the left-arm spinner from Garankuwa were two tight performances on the trot against the Aussies.

 Still, conditions were dusty and helpful, and the faster and truer Australian pitches, in particular, would be rather more challenging for Phangiso – he also plays definite second fiddle to both Tahir and Peterson for street wisdom at the highest level and like the former is not really a batting factor of any shape.

Happily, Phangiso is in the selection frame wholly on merit, but it cannot be overlooked that Cricket South Africa will be under inevitable political pressure not to exclude a black African player from the CWC squad, so that may boost his chances in certain respects.

My choice, if the CWC squad were picked here and now?

Very close call, but the admittedly slightly “safe”, conservative one of Peterson, given the extra cricketing strings to his bow and vastness of his experience.

ODI track records of the three:

Robin Peterson (age 35)

ODIs: 79

Wickets: 75

Average: 35.73

Economy: 4.90

Batting average: 20.59

Imran Tahir (age 35)

ODIs: 27

Wickets: 47

Average: 21.17

Economy: 4.33

Batting average: 13.00

Aaron Phangiso (age 30)

ODIs: 12

Wickets: 14

Average: 34.21

Economy: 4.44

Batting average: 9.00

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  imran tahir  |  cricket

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