Cape Town - Given the desire to lay down an aggressive
marker for the tour as a whole, expect South Africa to pin their hopes quite
heavily on a pace and seam battery for intended domination of the first one-day
international against India at the Wanderers on Thursday.
It is one department where the Proteas have relatively few
problems in the 50-overs format at present, even if the “death” aspect is an
ongoing area of some uncertainty -- AB de Villiers’s team have a reputation for
letting opponents off the hook at the crease after sound initial inroads and
generally good control of the middle periods as well.
A pleasant headache, in fact, awaits the team’s strategists
as they wrestle with the task of narrowing down their fast bowling arsenal for
the Bullring from a robust squad group that includes the irresistibly in-form
Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell, Vernon
Philander and also veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis who still bends his back
with the best of them when the mood grabs him.
Those seven offer a range of diverse skills and just how
many of them to actually field -- and how the balance of the team will be
affected as a result -- is a difficult matter for coach Russell Domingo and
Particularly as this is a day/night contest, the Proteas are
unlikely to go light on the pace front: the Wanderers traditionally is a
high-scoring, batting paradise for daytime limited-overs internationals when
the sun is shining but, like several other major South African venues with
floodlights, becomes considerably more of a challenge for batsmen as night
falls and the ball nips around a bit more.
Weather forecasts at this stage indicate some dampness on
Thursday in the afternoon and evening, with the danger of interruptions, so it
is even greater reason to suspect good assistance for the quicker men.
Under such circumstances, there may well be a temptation to
go hell for leather, as it were, with seam resources and thus put the place of
leg-spinner Imran Tahir in some doubt.
He stays a fairly attractive option with his wicket-taking
potential, it must be said, although Indian batsmen’s known comfort against
spin is another reason to believe he may be left out of the line-up to
accommodate an extra paceman if conditions hint at batsmen hopping about at the
crease or playing and missing a lot.
Linked to any possibility that Tahir doesn’t play will be
thoughts among the Proteas’ brains trust of whether JP Duminy could potentially
carry a full 10-overs load if the need arises with his part-time off-spin.
Sometimes in ODIs a pace-heavy policy can backfire nastily if
various stroke-players (world champions India hardly lack those!) genuinely get
“in” and start enjoying the speed at which the ball comes onto the blade; it can
also travel like a bullet to the boundary at the Wanderers.
So suddenly a dramatic change of pace can become essential,
and Domingo and captain AB de Villiers will have to ask themselves the key question
beforehand of whether they are confident enough in the ability of Duminy to act
as a possible lone spinner if specialist Tahir is kept on the sidelines.
The diminutive Cape Cobras batsman still tends largely to be
a “short stint” factor as a bowler in ODIs, and perhaps the hope will be that
four or five overs may be all that are needed from him once again.
Duminy is gradually becoming more assured and crafty as an
offie, although in 112 ODI appearances so far the 29-year-old has only ever
completed maximum spells four times.
Three of those have been abroad: against Australia at Sydney
in January 2009 (10-0-52-1), India at Cardiff in the June 2013 Champions Trophy
(10-0-42-1) and Sri Lanka at Pallekele just a month or so later (10-1-34-0).
On the plus side, though, there may be an encouraging sign
in the fact that his only full quota on SA soil came at the very Wanderers –
figures of 10-0-48-3 against Australia in April 2009 when his victims were
Ricky Ponting, David Hussey and Mitchell Johnson.
Yet there remains a certain risky element to any assumption
that Duminy could repeat that trick on Thursday: he is not quite in his best
known form with either bat or ball just at the moment and in his last burst of
off-spin was carted for 22 runs in a short-lived two overs against Pakistan in
the Port Elizabeth heart-stopper where the tourists clinched the just-ended
Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the Bullring and team hotel as
the Proteas’ honchos chew on one of their most important ODI XIs for some time.
On-day pitch and overhead conditions, of course, could be a pretty
powerful determinant in several cases ...
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