Pakistan v SA

Is it fair to alter SA’s attack?

2013-11-05 23:33
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Strange though it may seem, you have to go back 22 one-day internationals for the last time Dale Steyn scooped up more than two wickets in a match.

The occasion was March 12 2011, when the Proteas promisingly beat hosts India in the group stage of the World Cup at Nagpur, the Phalaborwa Express bagging a personal best analysis in the format of five for 50 ... true to his style, at an especially opportune time.

Pickings have been leaner for him since then and it is perhaps also true to say that, for all his undisputed brilliance as a Test strike factor – he continues to hog the No 1 spot on the bowler rankings there – he has never quite warmed to limited-overs duty to the same extent.

Steyn is delicately managed these days, and rightly so, to ensure that he is fit and firing to the best possible extent whenever Tests come along for South Africa – it means that the 30-year-old often sits out selected ODIs in the interests of preserving his longevity and thus doesn’t always get to build ideal rhythm and continuity in the one-day landscape.

In a pre-arranged move, the paceman joins the five-match series against Pakistan in time for game three at Abu Dhabi on Wednesday (13:00 SA time).

He is an animated, get-up-and-go type of character who should bring natural energy and zeal to the mix after his hiatus, although the strange thing at present is that the Proteas aren’t exactly crying out for his specialist brand of skills while the series stands tantalisingly balanced at 1-1.
In short, South Africa’s bowling attack has been excellent in the Emirates ODIs thus far, and the batting department awful.

Massive help on the latter front has arrived with Hashim Amla gratefully received back at the top of the order at the expense of now-departed Colin Ingram, even if one or two remaining customers in the front five continue to stutter to a worrying extent.

But fitting in Steyn is rather more of a headache: it almost certainly means a straight shootout between lanky fast bowlers Lonwabo Tsotsobe -- the favourite, if that is the right expression? – and Morne Morkel for who makes way.

The spinning chore is well covered at present by Imran Tahir with some aid from JP Duminy, and there is just no way the Proteas can sacrifice any more batting, currently such a fragile area, by ditching either of the in-form all-rounders Wayne Parnell or the increasingly consistent Ryan McLaren.

If Parnell sat out, for instance, it would mean a dangerously long tail with Steyn at No 8, followed by Morkel, Tsotsobe and Tahir – not ideal at all in the current climate.

So the only opportunity to fit in Steyn is to break up the new-ball duo Morkel and Tsotsobe: whoever goes would be desperately unlucky, although in the case of the former a “rotational rest” of his own could be deemed timely, and a handy way of resolving the quandary.

Morkel, after all, has played both Tests and the first two ODIs on this tour, although if anything he is just running into best form after a moderate Test portion: figures of 9.3-3-23-2 in the Sharjah win and 10-0-38-3 in the Dubai loss amply demonstrate that.

There really seems little sense in taking him out of the picture at this mid-series mark.

But left-armer Tsotsobe has also looked a much more purposeful soul, on the evidence of the first two ODIs, after copping some rightful criticism for his showings in Sri Lanka earlier in the year where he sometimes ran out of gas after his initial spell – an old problem – and sometimes looked a comedic liability as a fielder.

In the heat of the desert more recently, he has appeared motivated to deliver more complete performances: he took a fine outfield catch on the move in Dubai, whilst his batting cameo of 16 not out in a precious half-century stand with Parnell in late innings was like gold to the cause considering how South Africa later sneaked home by one run in Sharjah.

So Tsotsobe getting a cold shoulder now would also be an ill-merited occurrence.

Interestingly, if you look at where frontline seamers Steyn – whose pure X-factor, it is true, is severely hard to ignore – Morkel and Tsotsobe stand statistically at this juncture in their ODI careers, you can appreciate even more the dilemma of who to leave out of the brew in Abu Dhabi:

Morkel (7th in latest ICC rankings for ODI bowlers): 68 matches, 116 wickets at 23.60, economy rate 4.82, strike rate 29.3.

Tsotsobe (9th): 53 matches, 85 wickets at 24.40, economy rate 4.80, strike rate 30.4.

Steyn (15th): 73 matches, 102 wickets at 29.07, economy rate 4.92, strike rate 35.4.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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