Proteas: Are these the missing links?

2016-06-13 19:57
Vernon Philander (AFP Photo)

Cape Town – Sooner or later, South Africa will probably be forced to rebalance their one-day international XI.

From their currently unfavourable position – one win from three – perhaps the national side will strike back yet to win the triangular tournament in the Caribbean, and all will seem reasonably hunky-dory.

But even that would only fatally, temporarily mask a problem that has taken ever more damaging root: the fact that they are too often fielding teams effectively made up of six batsmen and five bowlers, with a too-thin spread of versatility which means a painfully lengthy tail.

It is a shame that so many of the very decent frontline bowlers in the Proteas’ squad are just not “factors” with the blade, a situation that was once quite the opposite when the likes of Messrs Pollock, Klusener, Boje, Peterson, Symcox and others could be genuinely influential, never mind simply know how to hold the willow.

There is also a complete futility, of course, in lamenting the absence these days of that mightiest team balancer of all in the country, Jacques Kallis.

But with Kallis out of the way for some two years now, it has flared up again recently that the Proteas still haven’t adequately solved the delicate problem of ensuring sufficient bowling firepower while staving off too little batting thrust (or at least reliability) from No 6 or 7 down – the lower order have twice tumbled like skittles in the Caribbean.

As I wrote at the weekend, not an awful lot can be done to improve the fluffy-tail situation for the remainder of the triangular, given the natural limitations in options amidst a faraway-from-home squad, although the arrival of Dean Elgar as batting replacement for injured Rilee Rossouw does offer possibilities for a shared bowling quota (with his quite passable left-arm spin) with one or two others like JP Duminy or Farhaan Behardien.

There has also been the impediment of Chris Morris struggling for best fitness; he is making a spirited bid to hike his credentials as a proper batting influencer in the middle- to lower-order.

But succeed or fail in the West Indies, Linda Zondi and his co-selectors seem almost certain to have to readdress the issue of finding further “bridging” players who can contribute in some way with both bat and ball and ease their fragility at the bottom end of the batting department.

That could be good news for several players, and I would suggest Vernon Philander, as an experienced revisit possibility, and Dwaine Pretorius, a new-blood option, as premier candidates in the current climate.

The battle-hardened, ever-competitive Philander was just starting to look bedded-down again as a fairly regular member of the ODI ranks last year, before he tore ankle ligaments during the Test series in India in early November and missed almost all of the subsequent remainder of the home season.

I have long suspected the 30-year-old from the Cobras is too good an all-round talent to be pigeon-holed simply as a five-day player, even if his ODI batting record isn’t nearly as good as it could be (top score of 30 not out from 19 innings, although in fairness he has often come in when a lotto-like slog is already on).

With the SA tail especially ropey these days, Philander’s under-rated technical ability and fighting qualities at the crease could come in very useful, especially if it is simply to give stable support to a solidly “in” top-order batsman.

His bowling is renowned, in broadest terms, for tight discipline even if he is the sort best utilised when the white ODI ball is hard in the earliest overs – a la Shaun Pollock of old – and not left with too much to do when the rush hour comes along for the opposition.

But if the Proteas seek a slightly younger injection of talent with future thoughts in mind, then Lions all-rounder Pretorius, 27, offers some attractive credentials too.

He was excellent statistically in the four-day Sunfoil Series for his franchise -- the runners-up -- last summer, scoring 402 runs at 30.92 including two centuries, and bagging 36 wickets at 21.36 into the bargain.

With very decent career List A figures as well, the Randfontein-born player was a heartening inclusion in the SA ‘A’ squads named recently – certainly indicating that Zondi’s panel are “watching” – for four-day tasks in Zimbabwe and then a limited-overs triangular against Australian and Indian counterparts Down Under.

It would be a dark-horse option, but if veteran slugger Albie Morkel, just turned 35, can maintain fitness and strike consistent form for the Titans in the early part of the 2016/17 domestic campaign, his fan club will start to make fresh noises too …    

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


Read more on:    proteas  |  albie morkel  |  vernon philander  |  cricket

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