Rob Houwing

Botha skipper riddle for SA

2011-03-30 10:11
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing

If you had asked me before the World Cup I would have pretty firmly backed Johan Botha for full-time successor to Graeme Smith as South Africa’s one-day international captain.

In a nutshell, he is a smart, self-motivated and determined cricketer, led the country with some distinction as stand-in to injured Smith when they thrashed Australia 4-1 in their own lair in 2008/09, and has been the designated vice-captain for some time anyway – so “logical progression” must come into the picture quite powerfully.

Only the last few weeks have rather complicated the landscape: suddenly Botha’s once safe position as the Proteas’ chief ODI spinning banker is under threat.

Let’s face it, South Africa didn’t exit this World Cup so infuriatingly because of any failings on the part of their attack; generally it was the most convincing part of their armoury at the tournament, not only bowling out teams more often than not but also muzzling the flow of runs very effectively.

Botha played his part in that with his canny off-spinners, as you might have expected of him. He didn’t get too involved in the wickets column (four in five CWC appearances) but did a customarily tidy job of stifling the “middle” part of the opposition innings and only travelling at 4.07 runs to the over.

But he was also eclipsed, certainly in statistical terms, by two teammates in Imran Tahir and Robin Peterson, as South Africa showed a welcome, rare commitment to embracing spin as a significant, multi-prong weapon.

Leg-spinner Tahir not only beat off Botha for economy (3.79 runs per over) but also soundly in scalps terms – he earned 14 of them at an exemplary average of 10.71. Compare that stat with Botha’s: the last-named player averaged 42.75.

Left-armer Peterson, meanwhile, went one better than Tahir for wickets (15) at an average of 15.86, even if he was slightly more expensive than both of the remaining specialist “tweaking threesome”, giving up 4.25 runs to the over.

Of course that doesn’t automatically mean Botha should be relegated to No 3-ranked spinner in the SA pecking order: a World Cup on the Subcontinent is now history as far as the distraught Proteas are concerned and when they resume ODI duty in more than six months’ time it will be against Australia in our own, altogether different backyard.

And Botha has a better ODI bowling record at home than he does abroad, not to mention the edge over Tahir, particularly, for experience of local conditions at international level.

But the World Cup figures do, nevertheless, present a bit of a conundrum over Botha’s important worthiness, if he were to be made regular captain, of a place in every XI fielded by the Proteas.

Bear in mind that it may well be a while before a South African team plays even two, let alone three, specialist spinners together – plus there are always Duminy/Du Plessis sort of options as part-timers.

So a Botha captaincy could spell bad news for the likes of Tahir and Peterson, as he would be rigidly fixed as leading spinner and some would argue unjustly so ... thus it is a tricky little situation.

Also to consider is that, for all his resolve with the bat, a lesson learnt ruefully, I believe, at the World Cup is that No 7 in the order is a tad too high for a man who averages 18.54 after 74 ODIs and has not yet registered a half-century.

It’s a drum I heard former SA seamer and national selector Craig Matthews banging quite resolutely on a radio programme the other day during a post mortem of the Proteas’ World Cup quarter-final departure: that the team which lost to New Zealand was bowler-heavy and batsman-light.

And if South Africa, as expected, return to a slightly more pace-geared ODI attack back home next season there will some delicate “balance” issues anew, because all of Messrs Steyn, Morkel and Tsotsobe can only bat in the bottom three.

So if either of Peterson or Tahir is employed additionally -- with Botha also assured of his spot as captain -- you are possibly back to square one with the skipper saddled once more with the demands of No 7!

Still, if not Botha as captain, then who? Here the waters are again a bit muddied.

The names of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and even Alviro Petersen (most certainly not assured of a slot in the ODI team) have been tossed out into the speculative breeze, and the only pretty decent one to me at this stage is Amla.

He has a calmness and serenity about him that could rub off well on those around him if he had the reins, but countering that is the probable absence of a “hard edge” so many experts speak of as being beneficial to the trade.

And if you are “born” to lead, it must be remembered that Amla once relinquished the Dolphins leadership – something not necessarily indicative of a burning desire to want the burden, albeit that he was very much younger then.

In the absence of a genuinely compelling alternative, I reckon my cross stays with Botha in the ballot at present ... though it is also tempting to spoil my paper, as it were.

Rob Houwing is Sport24’s chief writer

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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