Big T20 opportunity for Rusty

2012-02-13 14:38

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – In South Africa’s last Twenty20 international appearance, at the Wanderers back on October 16, Juan “Rusty” Theron helped get them out of jail at his secondary skill of lower-order batting.

Theron’s 31 not out off only 16 eventful balls, in an unbeaten eighth-wicket partnership of 64 with Wayne Parnell, got the Proteas a series-squaring win they barely deserved in the two-match assignment against Australia after they had stared right down the barrel of a 0-2 outcome.

It was confirmation of the spiky limited-overs package the Warriors campaigner is; there’s a fashionable little theory in cricket, after all, that a “bit of ginger” in the ranks is what many a cricket team needs.

But it is at his chief trade, that of seam bowler with the ability to smack toes or topple timber in late innings with his yorkers, that Gary Kirsten and company will probably be hoping Theron shines most brightly in the three-game T20 series against New Zealand starting on Friday (Wellington, 08:00 SA time).

That is assuming, of course, that he is actually selected for the opening fixture from a 14-strong party -- although as he was named player-of-the-match on the aforementioned date against the Aussies, logical continuity and fair treatment suggests he will.

Well into his 27th year, Theron can no longer really be described as a promising young element of the national limited-overs mix, although he has still only played 11 matches for his country across the two one-day codes.

In his seven T20 internationals, he has taken 11 wickets at an average of 20.09 and has an economy rate of 8.08.

The last-named statistic is always of special relevance in this format, and for Theron to really batten down a consistent berth, he probably needs to bring it back a little, into the early “sevens” at least where someone like Charl Langeveldt – his predecessor in many ways as a Proteas death bowler – boasts his runs-per-over home.

Bowling at the finish in T20 cricket is notoriously tricky: sometimes you can put the ball exactly where you intended it to go and it still gets unceremoniously thumped into the stands.

And getting a yorker only a fraction off desired length can have very damaging consequences.

Theron has rather blown hot and cold, thus far, in this area of responsibility for South Africa, so with the ICC World Twenty20 looming later this year in Sri Lanka – yes, a further chance for the Proteas to earn overdue silverware at a global bash -- he could do with some disciplined showings in New Zealand to put beyond doubt his suitability as the bowling version of a “finisher”.

It is an area South Africa still haven’t nailed down with great conviction, particularly since the now 37-year-old Langeveldt gradually became surplus to requirements.

Potchefstroom-born Theron has sometimes sparkled for the national cause with ball in hand, a case in point being the decisive second T20 international against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in 2010, when he earned career-best figures of 4-0-27-4 and the man-of-the-match mantle as South Africa powered their way to a 2-0 outcome in suffocating conditions seemingly more suited to the “host” nation.

But he has also suffered some run-concession angst at times, including in successive home-turf T20 defeats to India and Australia.

The first was in the much-touted “Makhaya Ntini farewell” at Moses Mabhida Stadium two seasons ago, a once-off encounter, where Theron was walloped for almost 10 runs an over, and then in early 2011/12, the first of those two matches against the Aussies, when his figures read a particularly gory 3.3-0-42-0.

Then, a no-nonsense Shane Watson got stuck into him badly in his first over at Newlands and it seemed to rattle him irreversibly, although some rotten luck also played its part in his worst stint, on paper at least, in the international T20 environment.

With the Proteas opting to rest hugely seasoned competitors Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis from this particular series (they rejoin the fray pretty quickly for the ODIs), there will be added pressure on Theron to keep a cool head in his likely designated chore at the back end of the Black Caps’ various innings.

A poor series by him and South Africa could well be resuming a slow, frustrating search to fill a key slot not too many soldiers have enthusiastically stuck up their hands for.

Theron may well be at a defining point of his career for the Proteas as he tries his hand on the virgin terrain, for him, of New Zealand.

Most people, I suspect, share my own gut feel that he has the mettle for the job; he just needs to emphatically tick the “delivery” box ...

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