Cape Town – South Africa’s depth for discipline and control on the bowling front must remain a matter of some concern to their senior strategists on the eve of participation in the ICC World Twenty20 tournament.
The Proteas, after one further warm-up against a Mumbai XI on Tuesday, open their campaign-proper against England in that city on Friday.
They nudged out hosts India by four runs in their first warm-up on Saturday – an encouraging outcome, though little real significance should be attached to it.
If anything the high-scoring contest seemed to serve further evidence that Faf du Plessis’s side still grapple with certain inconsistencies revolving around their “fourth and fifth” (and occasionally sixth, if necessary) bowlers.
With champion spearhead Dale Steyn slowly re-gathering his rhythm and finesse after a length lay-off, and Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir proven, influential campaigners at T20 international level, the main strike slots in their arsenal are in comforting hands, at least on paper.
Should the reasonably yo-yo figure Kyle Abbott be infused to the mix, there is also usually a pretty good expectation that he will keep a muzzle on things with his durable, probing fast-medium fare.
Keep in mind, of course, that there are times when the most pedigreed of bowlers, planet-wide, come in for an awful pasting or two in the game’s shortest format; it is simply the nature of the beast.
But the “second tier”, if you like, of the Proteas’ attack contains rather lingering imperfections, particularly when it comes to recent, dubious form in the vital economy department by the individuals required to complete the bowling line-up.
It is difficult to believe that coach Russell Domingo, Du Plessis and others in the squad hierarchy aren’t at least moderately concerned about how their two seam-bowling all-rounders, Chris Morris and David Wiese, and immediate back-up spinners JP Duminy and Aaron Phangiso have been faring of late.
For all their known talents and potential when conditions and a bit of luck are working in their favour, a certain vulnerability stalks all of them for too-consistent high volumes of runs conceded; major opponents at the WT20 are sure to have taken note of this drawback.
To his credit, Morris produced the best of his four overs statistically, in the warm-up triumph over India, in the critical final over of the innings, where he leaked only nine runs with the batting side requiring 14 to win at the start of it.
Even when he is not hitting quite the areas he wishes to, there is something reassuring about the way the lanky competitor, warts and all, doesn’t seem to unravel mentally; he has a calm, philosophical side to him that sometimes works in his and the team’s favour.
Yet it remains a cold fact that he travelled for 42 runs in his full quartet of overs (10.50 RPO), and that comes on the heels of going at 9.75 to the over against Australia at the Wanderers – he did not play in the Newlands series decider – and 11.66 in Durban.
Similarly Wiese, after a fantastic start to the bilateral hostilities against the Aussies when he registered 4-0-16-2 at Kingsmead, has had three altogether more humbling bowling experiences since then, conceding a worrisome 107 runs in eight subsequent overs (13.37 RPO) without further reward the wicket column.
First he was caned by 58 runs in four overs by the Australians on the gun-barrel straight Bullring track, then conceded 23 from two overs in Cape Town, and in Saturday’s warm-up also made a necessarily short-lived contribution, leaking 26 from two overs – not ideal ammunition to begin a global tournament with.
If the Proteas still plan to use JP Duminy (he did at least shine with the bat at the weekend, scoring 67 at a strike rate of 150-plus) as the main back-up spinner to Tahir, his own bowling lead-up record is desperately shaky: in the last four T20 internationals in which he has turned his arm over with his off-breaks, he has given away 66 runs in five overs.
In addition, should the South Africans decide that Indian conditions warrant the deployment of a second spinning specialist, rather than just pinning their hopes on Duminy’s part-time element, just what frame of mind Aaron Phangiso will be in is anybody’s guess.
The left-arm spinner’s action has been cleared, after he was initially suspended over it at the end of February, but the whole matter may well have left him fragile, knowing that he will inevitably be under a special microscope at the WT20.
Perhaps the Proteas might have hoped, too, to be able to coax more than one over from him on Saturday as a means of regaining sharpness and confidence, but he was withdrawn after an unflattering 1-0-13-0.
So structuring of the SA attack as a whole for crunch matches at the event – the only likely “easy” fixture is against minnows Afghanistan on Sunday – is perhaps a more fluid and complex matter than the team’s supporters would like it to be.
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