Cape Town – It will be a head-scratcher to them already ... and that may not change just ahead of the toss in the third Test between South Africa and England at the Wanderers on Thursday.
But if the Proteas’ tactical hierarchy examine the weather outlook then and also take into account an historical omen or two, it could spell bad news for Dane Piedt, the emerging young off-spinner in their ranks who seems undeserving statistically right now of omission at the Bullring.
Whispers are getting noisier that the host nation, 1-0 down with two clashes to go and needing victory in Johannesburg to keep alive their chances of series triumph, are keen to place their faith in an all-seam specialist bowling battery as a gambler’s spirit begins to seduce them.
The suggestion may seem unfathomable to some observers, given that Piedt is the leading wicket-taker on either side after two Tests with nine (albeit at an unremarkable average of 40.66), including a maiden five-for during the English second innings in the surrendered first encounter.
But it has to be borne in mind that England played that innings under limited pressure, considering their healthy first-knock supremacy, and the 25-year-old also conceded a rather inflated 153 runs – no other Proteas bowler leaked more than 62.
Piedt also took some “tap” from Ben Stokes and company (though who didn’t, in fairness?) during that jaw-dropping blitzkrieg by the tourists in the follow-up, drawn Newlands Test, and with an economy rate of close to four runs to the over has not emphatically confirmed yet that he can play a truly tight, holding role if pitch conditions are fairly unsuitable to his trade.
And they may well not be tailor-made for him at the Wanderers.
South Africa urgently seek a result in their favour – not just because they haven’t won any Test in the last eight – and for all the high risks attached, something reasonably close to a green-top and a “let’s bomb ‘em” approach has long been etched into their DNA motivationally in circumstances like this one.
It hardly helps the promising Piedt’s case for keeping a berth amidst a four-man attack that the last time they played England at the Wanderers, the decisive fourth and final Test of the 2009/10 series, the home side also went all-seam and won by an innings with a gung-ho performance to salvage a belated but thoroughly merited 1-1 outcome.
The mainline attack on that occasion comprised Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell and Ryan McLaren ... and that was even in the era when there was still the luxury of a certain JH Kallis to apply bits of additional pressure with the ball.
Of course Kallis no longer being around unbalances and limits the attack a great deal, because so often in the past he could reassuringly be ticked as the fourth seamer and there would still be a place for a spin specialist anyway.
The current SA side doesn’t have it so lucky, and we have already seen the damaging effects on a mere three-man pace department if one of them pulls up during a Test, as happened to Steyn at Kingsmead.
In addition, several reputable weather information websites strongly suggest that the Highveld heat-wave (and associated drought) is about to moderate significantly, with decent quantities of rain and much cooler temperatures predicted for just about every day leading up to the Wanderers showdown, and at least a couple of days into it as well.
With a bit of luck, much of the precipitation will come through traditional late afternoon or evening thundershowers, thus having a limited effect on the cricket.
Still, if there is cloud-cover and general dampness in Johannesburg after a long period of baking sunshine, it generally means that a sporty, pace-friendly track may lie in wait for a Test match.
Under such a scenario, it would not be overly cavalier of AB de Villiers, Russell Domingo and company to contemplate a four-strong seam arsenal, with a “bits and pieces” theme to spin requirements in the shape of Dean Elgar and perhaps JP Duminy if the Cape Cobras batsman is recalled following his superlative Sunfoil Series double-century efforts at Paarl.
A glance at the handful of most recent Tests in the Bullring also provides little evidence of spinners being notably influential in the outcomes, despite the presence of such heavyweight names as India’s Ravichandran Ashwin (0/108 in the last Wanderers five-dayer in December 2013), Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal, Nathan Lyon of Australia and England’s Graeme Swann.
If Dane Piedt misses out in a few days’ time, he’d be unlucky ... but probably mature enough to realise that a horses-for-courses policy was being activated in an hour of heightened need.
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