Cape Town – Should it be a foregone conclusion that Morne
Morkel and Kagiso Rabada, the two most settled members of the Proteas’ injury-plagued
pace attack, play in the dead-rubber final Test against England at Centurion
The selectors and team brains trust could hardly be blamed
if they wouldn’t really fancy omitting either, given the need to begin a
redemption mission as quickly as possible and ideally muster the best possible
resources to try to prevent, at the very least, a blown-out 0-3 series outcome.
South Africa would particularly love to win not only to
reduce the final score-line to 1-2, but just to sample a victorious feeling
again after a rare nine Tests on the trot without one.
As it is, the Proteas have been badly affected by the absence
of Vernon Philander for the entire series and Dale Steyn for all but the
opening clash in Durban, where the veteran broke down and wasn’t able to regain
fitness for any further role in the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy hostilities.
A markedly inexperienced look to the home bowling arsenal
has been one reason why England have taken such an unexpectedly one-sided grip
on things up to this point.
The still 20-year-old Rabada continues to develop in leaps
and bounds at Test level and, following his maiden five-for – one of few bright
aspects of the Wanderers thrashing – it would seem sacrilegious to some if he
sat out the next game.
But the fixture unavoidably has less gravitas now, and there
is a solid case for arguing that he and (or?) the lanky-framed Morkel, who have
borne the heaviest loads of any SA pacemen in recent months, should be rested
in the interests of the looming limited-overs portion of the tour.
Both will also be near-certain picks for the Proteas’ squad
to take part in the next ICC World Twenty20, scheduled for India in early March,
and need to be as fresh as possible for the demands of the benign Subcontinent
Morkel is the leading South African wicket-taker (10 at
33.70) in the series thus far and has played in all three Tests, bowling a
total of 116.3 overs – that is more than any other seamer across both sides.
England’s most hard-working customer, the in-form Stuart
Broad, has sent down 96.1 overs, and easily tops the series scalps chart with
15 thus far at 16.46.
But Rabada who, remember, has still played relatively little
first-class cricket, has bowled 70 of his own over the course of two successive
clashes with the English for his nine wickets at 37.55.
Both men also played three Tests each on the gruelling,
ultimately deflating prior tour of India, where they were also key components
of the fine effort at the outset in South Africa winning both one-day
components – the ODIs 3-2 and the T20 clashes 2-0.
If they were Australian, I have little doubt that Morkel and
Rabada – or at least one of them – would not be called into action for a
dead-rubber Test match if there were bigger-picture needs to think about just a
bit further down the line; the Aussies are renowned for assembling a big pool
of fast bowlers across the three international formats and often rotating them
Personally, I suspect neither will get a break this weekend
... but don’t crucify the Proteas’ strategists if they do daringly “pull” one
of them from the SuperSport Park contest in the interests of curbing a burnout
My suggestion for a best possible pace trio (if that is the
preferred approach, and assuming off-spinner Dane Piedt returns to the XI on
Friday) in the fourth Test would be Morkel, Rabada and Kyle Abbott.
The trouble with any decision to invite Morkel to put his
feet up at the venue he knows better than any, is that SA would be going in
without his 70-Test experience and putting out a bowling line-up that would
collectively be their most wet behind the ears in many a year.
A few months ago, a Proteas Test attack minus all of the
Steyn-Philander-Morkel triumvirate would have seemed quite unthinkable.
But if they do bite the bullet, take immediate future itinerary
needs into account and withdraw either of Morkel or Rabada, the door would
obviously open invitingly to one of Hardus Viljoen or Chris Morris to atone for
their too generous concession-rate of runs at the Bullring ...
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