Stiaan shows bowling merits

2015-07-22 15:15
Stiaan van Zyl (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – He is never going to frighten people and he may, similarly, fall well short of ever “running through” sides at Test level.

Nor should we get too prematurely excited simply because military medium-pacer Stiaan van Zyl’s first innings bowling figures for the Proteas against Bangladesh at Chittagong read a very tidy 9-2-13-1 upon completion of rain-curtailed day two of the first clash.

But part-timers can also be worth their mini-weight in gold to the collective cause ... especially in an era when fully-fledged all-rounders for the five-day landscape globally are in short supply.

It has become increasing the vogue for Test teams – their ranks currently include England, India, South Africa and to some extent also Australia at times – to put their team-balance faith in just four specialist bowlers, with any remaining duties lying in batsmen who can provide occasional relief for the quartet with workmanlike “fill-in” stints.

In that respect, the 27-year-old international rookie Van Zyl, whose main trade is as a left-handed top-order batsman, is starting to show budding signs that his right-arm seam fare could have ongoing value in the period when the Proteas continue to adapt as best they can to life after the massively multi-skilled luxury that was Jacques Kallis.

He is highly unlikely to become either as proficient or penetrative as Kallis, yet in four Test appearances thus far, including the present one against the unexpectedly tenacious Bangladeshis, the Cape Cobras campaigner has already been summoned for bowling activity in four innings and is yet to be exposed – as evidenced by a total of 29 overs for a return of 2/54 and glowing economy rate of 1.86.

True, he is yet to be exposed to the strokeplayers of any known superpower at Test level – most of his service has come against weak West Indies, visitors to our shores last summer – but at the very least he looks a credible option for captain Hashim Amla when conditions may suit him or it looks as though the team are set for a rather gruelling stint in the field.

His bowling acumen was barely mentioned when he made his debut at Centurion in mid-December and happily earned a maiden, unbeaten century at his most trusted trade.

Van Zyl will know as well as anyone else does that if he is to stay in the SA Test mix – and that is not yet guaranteed as somebody in the order must make way for AB de Villiers again soon – healthy runs off his blade will be the most desired requirement.

But at the same time, nobody should be too grossly surprised that he has looked competent, at very least, when chipping in with a few overs for his country.

During his short-pants days at junior school, Van Zyl actually had some designs on becoming a pace bowler of near-specialist branding, although that process went onto a back burner as his skilful and durable batting instead came increasingly to the fore.

Still, he has generally continued to willingly apply his own hands to the pump in bowling terms at franchise level: his first-class figures show 42 scalps (including one coveted five-for) at an average of 34.04 and economy of 2.63.

In short, there is a developing hallmark that the wily Van Zyl is not that easy to smack about.

On Wednesday, his discipline – combined with success in winkling Imrul Kayes out with the aid of a brilliant Quinton de Kock leg-side stumping – played no small part in the collective, important damage limitation during the ongoing Bangladesh first knock.

As things stand the home side continue, a little uncomfortably for the world’s top-ranked side, to command a slight advantage as they trail by only 69 runs with six wickets still to play with.

At least some kind of lead is increasingly likely for Bangladesh, so there remains much graft to be done if rust-afflicted South Africa are to escape with a draw or ideally still win the encounter.

What made Van Zyl’s (and also briefly opening partner Dean Elgar’s) stop-gap bowling so important was that at one point it looked as though the Proteas might go through the unusual indignity – especially against these opponents – of seeing an entire first 80 overs with the initial new cherry go by without one of their highly-touted three “proper” strike bowlers picking up a scalp.

That mercifully changed when Vernon Philander, in the 67th over, finally struck the impressive No 4 batsman Mahmudullah pretty plumb in front.

Rain arrived not long afterwards. Quietly, South Africa ought not rue a fair bit more in this Test.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  stiaan van zyl  |  cricket

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