Cape Town – Just one injury or illness problem to a staple
batting figure could be enough to significantly imperil the Proteas’ cause at
the short, high-intensity ICC Champions Trophy.
Rightly or wrongly, South Africa’s selectors stuck with
their allrounder-heavy policy that has served the team notably well in recent
times when they named the 15 for the tournament.
But what it also meant was that if there is any disturbance at
short notice to their established top six, the reserve cupboard in specialist
batting is glaringly limited.
To put it bluntly, that cupboard contains one member:
The oft-maligned partial all-rounder – he bowls a bit of
gentle medium-pace to supplement his middle-order strokeplay, albeit very
sporadically – is often enough a commanding factor in domestic one-day cricket,
but he near-routinely fails to thoroughly convince at the higher level even
after 56 ODIs and some five years of international experience for the Proteas.
In stark statistical terms, the 33-year-old Behardien is likely
to be one of the least heavyweight individuals as “next cab off the rank” for a
team in a straight batting sense at the Champions Trophy.
In fairness, there are times when he produces under-rated
cameos with either bat (more often) or ball, and he can be a useful
horses-for-courses pick in certain SA combinations or when conditions – like a
slow, gripping pitch – suit his set of capabilities.
But with no Rilee Rossouw (Kolpak contract) around these
days to create significantly heavier pressure for spots amidst the front six,
Behardien is the lone peripheral option if the Proteas are required to replace
one batsman directly with another.
Just for example, if a seasoned, “gun” player like captain
AB de Villiers (9 299 ODI runs at 54.38) or Hashim Amla (7 032 at 50.22) were
to be sidelined for any reason, there is an acute surrender of weight,
figures-wise, if Behardien is roped in.
That would probably be the case for any replacement in
relation to those two, both of them extraordinary – rarely so -- players.
But it is impossible not to fear that South Africa are at
the risk of losing more crease firepower than any other frontline nation would
if a major batsman “goes down”.
Behardien brings more of a work-it-around approach, and
potential usefulness as a partner to a more “in” batsman at advanced stages of
an innings, than he offers genuine clout as a heavy scorer from a premier slot.
I like to see him do well because he seems a loyal,
uncomplaining and devoted sort of squad man who soaks in pretty regular
criticism stoically; he hardly lacks a determination not to let the side down.
But it is nevertheless problematic that he is not a proven
heavy contributor to the ODI batting cause: the right-hander has never bettered
70 (against New Zealand, Potchefstroom) in Proteas “greens” and only just
averages 30 – albeit that you cannot quibble at all with his rosy career strike
rate of 97.
In the case of tournament host nation and most recent Proteas-conquerors
England, for instance, their current “surplus” batsman is a certain Jonny
Bairstow, a far more comfortable fit anywhere in a top six than Behardien on a
performance-judged basis, with respect.
The Yorkshireman did get a place in the dead-rubber fixture
against South Africa at Lord’s on Monday, when England rested some core
personnel, and promptly top-scored with a fighting 51 from No 5 after taking
guard at a precious 15 for three (quickly to become 20 for six as well).
He has now made half-centuries in three of his last four ODI
innings … and still his spot in the first team is not assured!
Bairstow has notched 647 runs at 38.05 in 26 ODIs, with a
career best thus far of 83 not out against New Zealand at Chester-le-Street,
but bear in mind also that he is a dangerous Test batsman, providing further
proof of his broad international mettle.
The firm-striking right-hander averages 41 from 38 Tests,
including a premier effort of 167 not out against Sri Lanka and another 150 not
out against South Africa in a famously savage alliance with Ben Stokes at
Newlands not much more than a year back.
Behardien will scrap as best he can if summoned to the
Proteas’ mix; he usually does, and his harsher detractors suspiciously overlook
his contributions when he does chip in valuably.
But a potential match-winner or notably influential figure
on any red-letter day? His track record regrettably suggests a limited
The Proteas do not want disturbance to their first-team
batting status quo …
*Rob Houwing will be
attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: