SA in New Zealand

Levi: virtuous or vacuous?

2012-02-21 12:14
Richard Levi (Gallo)

Cape Town – Is one allowed to hail and curse something in the same breath?

I’m guessing there’s no hard and fast rule in that regard, so unapologetically include both emotions in my reaction to Tuesday’s confirmation that Richard Levi will not be a late add-on to the Proteas’ one-day international squad in New Zealand.

Instead the fresh-faced, world record-breaking Twenty20 batsman comes home, as initially intended, to continue plying his trade in the same format ... albeit for a domestic Cape Cobras side no doubt tickled pink by his infusion soon to the MiWay T20 Challenge.

There is a very good, seriously admirable side to the decision by national selection convenor Andrew Hudson and company to stick with their chosen troops for the three-match ODI series: why latch another name to the arsenal simply on the grounds of one freak knock in the greatly more condensed arena?

In stoutly resisting public, press and some ex-player pressure to swell the squad from 14 to 15 – all that would require in practical terms would be relatively minor additional logistical expense in the national interest – the brains trust can certainly be said to have provided a ringing endorsement to the original picks, and especially the top-order batting department.

They have made a strong “we have faith in what we’ve already got” statement, which is hardly the worst thing for morale purposes and stability’s sake.

And there is also a case for saying that basically pigeon-holing Levi (still the holder of a paltry two international caps, let’s not forget) as a T20 customer makes some sense in a year when the major limited-overs target is the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September.

You could also argue that we are still in relatively early days of the strategic alliance between Hudson and coach Gary Kirsten, both unashamedly non-disciples of marked bag-shaking and knee-jerk reaction to situations, and that their philosophy warrants further time to bear fruit.

Keep in mind one thing, too: not even the Levi-infused T20 series has been won yet!

But now let’s shift toward the contrary – and seemingly much more strongly-subscribed -- point of view.

Quite clearly there are many people who see Levi, courtesy of that amazing 117 not out off 51 balls at admittedly small Seddon Park, as the breath of fresh air they feel South Africa could do with at one-day level broadly, especially at a time of adjustment to life without prior front-of-innings blaster Herschelle Gibbs.

It is not as though the Proteas are flying in limited-overs cricket: Australia and England top the respective ODI and T20 global rankings at present, with South Africa not even in the immediately following slot either.

And with Levi doing so much to give New Zealand’s previously cocksure bowling attack the yips in Hamilton, there is a forceful argument for saying that he should get a crack as quickly as possible at potentially extending their misery into the 50-overs fray.

After all, he comes off a fine, influential season in the Cobras’ title-winning 1-Day Cup campaign – 424 runs at an average of 53 and strike rate of 123.

Another theory doing the rounds, I’m sure, will be that adding Levi to the ODI brew would only have increased the pressure to perform much more consistently on stalwart opener Graeme Smith, once a very assured limited-overs assassin himself but glaringly more fitful in recent years.

The selectors, after all, have stubbornly “invested” in Smith of late and could protest with some justification that their patience was just beginning to pay off anew: the big left-hander comes off scores of 68 and 125 against Sri Lanka in Kimberley and Johannesburg respectively – albeit in losing causes both times.

But sending Levi home hardly decreases any spotlight on Smith, surely? If anything, maybe the former’s absence from the party only lumps more heat on the incumbent to keep his act together.

And besides, would Levi’s presence automatically have endangered “Biff’s” position? Perhaps by actually pairing them upfront, you might have got the best of both worlds: a chance for Levi to show his ODI mettle and for Smith to have the luxury of getting a longer look at the bowling, if you like, courtesy of Levi’s penchant for getting the run rate up to buoyant levels straight away.

Although it would obviously endanger the position of someone like Faf du Plessis in the middle order, a South African top six in ODIs could be made to look like this: Smith, Levi, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy.

Granted, it would mean Messrs Amla and Kallis dropping a notch each to assume their “Test” positions, which some would consider less than ideal for ODI tempo purposes, but if a rollicking start has been achieved, somebody like De Villiers could easily be pushed slightly back up the order if the situation warranted it.

For the record, I would have taken a compromise route that would have involved Levi extending his stay in New Zealand: I would have done the decent thing, in certain respects, by sitting him out of the first game and thus giving the “status quo” a chance, but certainly wishing to have the option of infusing him into the short, sharp series if the Proteas go 1-0 down and thus immediately in need of successive wins to snatch the honours.

Richard Levi should have stayed: it’s my belief that the South African camp missed out on an opportunity to show that their thinking isn’t always geared rigidly toward conservatism.

 Just imagine the fresh stick Hudson and others will get if the Levi-less Proteas lose the ODI series; they have suddenly set some particularly high stakes.

The bottom line, though, is perhaps that the Black Caps may not quite be believing their luck?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sa in new zealand  |  richard levi
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