Cape Town – Hardus Viljoen needs to be mindful of the need to keep his economy rate to at least manageable proportions when South Africa ‘A’ tackle England in a limb-loosener for the one-day international series in Kimberley on Saturday.
The big, strong paceman is effectively on trial when the country’s “next best” tackle the tourists at De Beers Diamond Oval, which tends to have a flat, sun-baked deck and is seldom a prolific playground for bang-it-in strike bowlers.
It is probably a shoot-out between Viljoen and the considerably more experienced Wayne Parnell to fill the vacancy that has arisen in the Proteas’ pace department after Dale Steyn’s complete withdrawal from the five-match ODI series which begins some 165km down the road in Bloemfontein on Wednesday.
Both contenders turn out for the SA ‘A’ combo on Saturday (13:30 start) and whoever fares better may well earn the phone call; it is already known that hamstring-nursing Kyle Abbott will miss the first ODI, leaving only the Test-weary Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel and also Chris Morris as specialist seamers in the senior 50-overs squad.
Parnell may well be in the inside lane, given his prior 46 ODI caps, 35 in the Twenty20 format and four Tests for the country.
Not only does he provide left-arm variety to the attack, but he also offers attractive lower-order batting credentials.
That said, Parnell is a “moody” type of cricketer who blows hot and cold: he has a match-winning habit but also a penchant for losing the plot when things aren’t going his way.
So if Viljoen is to force his way into the frame for the ODIs, he ought to need to demonstrate a combination of both strike success and acceptable discipline in the Kimberley fixture, expected to start in sizzling temperature of around 36 deg C.
When he made his less-than-stellar Test debut at the Wanderers recently – a venue where he often enjoys giddy success with his Lions franchise – Viljoen’s fast and loose hallmark earned him comparisons from commentators with highly unpredictable, raw-pace customers like England’s Devon Malcolm or Shaun Tait.
Viljoen enjoyed a memorable start to his Test baptism, winkling out England captain Alastair Cook with his first delivery, but then leaking a further 79 runs from 15 overs in the England first knock at an expensive economy rate of 5.26 and not getting any scalps in a short second-innings bowl either.
It was a match analysis not automatically suggesting that he is a compelling candidate for condensed cricket at international level, although his primary job would presumably be to strike valuable blows in the wickets column while the white ball is still pretty hard upfront.
Still, the 26-year-old from Witbank clearly has a sound temperament and no lack of self-belief, as he quickly made up for his Bullring Test disappointment with 3/80 and 6/95 in a Sunfoil Series derby against the Titans at Potchefstroom.
Viljoen boasts 100 wickets in the List A landscape from 68 matches at 29.70 and an economy rate of 5.91.
He may well wish to improve on the last-named stat in Saturday’s match against the tourists if he is to earn the national selectors’ faith very soon afterwards ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing