SA in New Zealand
Levi: virtuous or vacuous?
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
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
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
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?
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