Pakistan v SA

Proteas' CWC plans clearer

2010-11-09 07:04
Robin Peterson (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Senior statesman Jacques Kallis, fresh from yet another hugely influential personal performance, summed up South Africa’s latest one-day international series victory with an appropriate observation.

“We’ve come a long way from a few months ago,” he noted after the Proteas methodically snuffed out Pakistan’s tenacity to win the last ODI in Dubai by a comfortable margin on Monday for a 3-2 outcome.

With the frontline batting as accomplished as ever, this was the perfect time for Graeme Smith’s side to  slightly ease rightful fears over their broad competence in the field – and they pretty much did so on the night.

So the bigger picture is that the Proteas are significantly closer to finalising their all-important squad for the World Cup, only three months up the road and in conditions likely to be similar for the most part to those they’ve just experienced in the United Arab Emirates.

The door has not quite slammed shut to peripheral aspirants, as a home five-match series against India still precedes the trip to CWC 2011, but if you were to have to finalise a 15-strong South African squad for the tournament immediately, I would suggest that some 12 spots could be filled with reasonable conviction.

These would include the top five batting positions because, quite frankly, how anybody else expects to break up the logical sequence from the top of Smith, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers and Duminy would baffle most astute observers.

A few weeks ago, you might not have ventured Duminy’s name quite so confidently, but the little left-hander appears to have buried virtually all of the perplexing demons that afflicted him last season, when some hard-to-please critics were muttering that his Australian feats of a year earlier amounted to a flash in the pan.

Their reservations have instead been proved to be groundless.

Duminy has been in delightfully enterprising, purposeful touch all summer so far, and he played a beauty of an innings on Monday to turbo-charge the Proteas well past the psychological satisfaction of the 300 mark when it had appeared that their assault might falter a little to 280 or so after a lengthy period without a boundary.

The 18 runs he took off a late over from Shoaib Akhtar, derailing the Rawalpindi Express in a blaze of fours, earned appreciative whooping and clapping from the South African balcony, as if to suggest that there could be no way back into the contest from there for the Pakistanis, whatever the problems South Africa have had with their bowling consistency recently.

I fancy that the deciding ODI, with Robin Peterson entering the equation and grabbing the opportunity with both hands with his left-arm spinners, has also settled the Proteas’ spin arsenal for the World Cup: it will be Johan Botha and Peterson as the specialists, with Duminy always an extra option when you need him to sneak in three or four overs here and there.

The good thing about the first-named pair is that they also offer potential as interchangeable factors around No 7 and 8 in the batting order if fielded together on pitches appearing especially conducive to their slow bowling.

They are both quite big on improvisation and unorthodoxy at the crease, and just maybe the Proteas don’t need to be too obsessed, as a result, with having a more genuinely-branded “finisher” like an Albie Morkel or David Miller on hand for every encounter at the World Cup.

This is especially because the jury is arguably out on just how much value Morkel and Miller offer after a UAE series in which neither flourished - in admittedly limited opportunities - as long-ball clubbers.

Perhaps one of these two, and not both, will eventually make the World Cup cut. (Miller is the young gun with rosy potential, while Morkel gives you the bowling possibility the KwaZulu-Natalian can’t.)

Also important is that both Botha and Peterson offer known strong value as fielders.

Which seam bowlers are highly unlikely to be ousted now, just five SA matches ahead of the global get-together?

My suggestion is Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne Morkel  ... plus Rusty Theron as designated death-bowling exponent, despite his strangely little exposure to the series against Pakistan.

Not that long ago Charl Langeveldt would have got my nod for that mantle, and doubtless that of many others, but the old man just seems to be creaking at a bad time for him.

Tsotsobe has been the relative newcomer to most impress in the UAE, with seven scalps at 20.14 and a really glowing economy rate for the series of 3.61.

The last near-certainty I would argue at this stage is Colin Ingram, who has shown enough skill and temperament in earliest appearances to suggest he justifies a batting place – he is also capable of operating anywhere between the top order and No 6.

That probably leaves name like Langeveldt, Wayne Parnell, Miller, Morkel (A), and perhaps yet Mark Boucher and Alviro Petersen, who have joined the Test squad in the UAE, to scrap it out for three up-in-the-air squad positions.

But at least the ODI mist is beginning to clear quite nicely for the national selectors ...

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