Cape Town – The latest South African one-day international
squads have bowling all-rounders just about coming out of every pore.
It seems the new vogue in Proteas circles, although the
situation poses fairly critical questions: How many of them will actually get
to play? And is the abundance only a reflection of uncertainty over which ones
to prioritise and give decent opportunities to?
Of course there is no longer a Jacques Kallis type of
“classical” all-rounder doubling effortlessly as a frontline batsman and
fully-fledged bowler, although the same drawback applies to most countries
Still, when selection convenor Linda Zondi named separate
squads on Tuesday for the once-off ODI against Ireland (13 players) at Benoni
on September 25 and the five-match home series against Australia shortly
afterwards (16-strong), each oozed versatile cricketers.
The first-named party included all-rounders with bowling as
their major suit in the shape of Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell and new caps
Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius, plus batsmen who turn their arms over
at times in stalwart JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien.
All of them but Pretorius also crack the nod for the Aussie
challenge, so hopefully the Randfontein-born Lions customer, 27, will get the
Ireland game to show his worth before his short sampling of life amidst the
Proteas ends for the time being.
If anything, Pretorius looks a particularly attractive
customer at some point – especially if he has another big domestic season – for
the Test squad, given that his first-class batting average stands at a mere
fraction below 40 and a bowling average of 21.31 is pretty striking too.
Veteran pace ace Dale Steyn mentioned in a recent interview
with Sport24 that he felt the Test side “cries out” for an all-rounder who can
provide a comforting fourth-seamer element to the attack, so Pretorius may soon
push squad incumbent Chris Morris (though he kicked his heels in the recent
series against New Zealand) for a berth on that basis.
But there’s clearly an even more claustrophobic race for
all-rounder berths at limited-overs level, and it will be intriguing to see
whether certain elements of the group immediately become favoured, or whether
there is liberal shuffling of the cards during the Australian series.
The incumbents could be said to be Morris and Parnell, both
of whom were involved in the unsuccessful Proteas side which ended odd-team-out
by failing to crack the final of the June triangular with West Indies and the
Aussies in the Caribbean.
Parnell has a healthy 51 ODI caps stretching back to 2009,
though remains a frustrating enigma at international level -- his saving grace
for participation in series at times has probably been the fact that he offers lone
left-arm variety to the seam attack.
There is a certain X-factor about Morris, who has his faults
(most commonly in the economy department) but boasts a strong temperament and
the Proteas do seem to enjoy having him lurking at least “thereabouts” in all
three formats and he is increasingly using the long handle to explosive effect.
Morris is 29 and Parnell 27, so neither is a particularly
youthful figure, and for that the selectors are now taking a look at Andile
Phehlukwayo, the 20-year-old from the Dolphins who made some encouraging
strides in both limited-overs and unofficial “Test” combat for SA ‘A’ on a
recent tour Down Under.
He bowled steadily, and also made useful scores in the
vicinity of seven or eight in the batting order during the “Tests”, including a
half-century in the first at the Allan Border ground in Brisbane.
If the Proteas brains trust makes fairly healthy use of the
bowling all-rounders during the next few weeks – perhaps deploying two or even
three of them together -- it may also be a signal that they want to
significantly stiffen up the depth of South Africa’s one-day batting.
When they field men like Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir,
Morne Morkel (though presently injured) and Tabraiz Shamsi as main bowlers,
their tail has a rather fragile look, heaping the pressure on the main
blade-wielders not to get out.
That has been an area where the country currently plays
notable second fiddle to traditional fierce rivals like England, who are on a
menacing run in the ODI format, coming off 4-1 home series results against
Pakistan and 3-0 against Sri Lanka.
The English frontline batsmen – an increasingly impressive
unit anyway – enjoy the luxury of knowing that relative failure in certain
cases isn’t necessarily going to impede their charge, because their lower-end
batting is so capable.
They are not averse to using bowling units comprising
figures like Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes, Liam Plunkett, Moeen Ali and Adil
Rashid, all of whom have very credible – and in some cases even potentially
match-winning -- batting records.
The Proteas happen to play plenty of limited-overs cricket
in the very England next year, including in another major ICC jamboree, the
They may well be consciously endeavouring already, at least
to a fledgling extent, to fix a troubling tail weakness …
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