Cricket World Cup 2011

Morkel v Lopsy shootout?

2011-03-23 12:57
Lonwabo Tsotsobe (File)

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Make it a straight slug-out between Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe for one seam berth in the Proteas team for the World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand in Dhaka on Friday.

That is my starting-point suggestion as the South African brains trusts faces one of the most pleasant selection predicaments imaginable, with 14 of the 15 squad members (with respect, Wayne Parnell probably sole exception at present) vying extremely voraciously for a place in the XI.

Of course getting the on-day brew right may well be key to the Proteas’ onward passage to the semis, especially if the underdog Black Caps lift their game to inspiring levels as the tournament reaches its truest “business” period.

And generally speaking, Corrie van Zyl and company have seemed to make right calls along the way, with the South Africans surging to best-placed finish in Group B.

Naturally that hasn’t stopped fierce and mostly healthy debate back home around selection, and we should all accept, for one thing, that there will be some desperately “unlucky losers” when the side to face the Kiwis is finalised.

The really pleasing aspect of the current Proteas squad has been the adaptability of so many players, which makes balancing the side ... well, both easy and difficult, if you follow my drift!

Also to consider, as I venture my own ideal XI for Friday from afar, is that local conditions can fluctuate almost daily within a certain range, even if the predominant trend on the Subcontinent is slow and often lowish pitches.

For example, forecasts continue to indicate a good chance of rain during the match, and it is also a day/nighter, unlike the Proteas’ prior outing against host nation Bangladesh at the Shere Bangla National Stadium a few days ago.

So management will clearly delay their team call until they have assessed the on-day situation, which could affect the composition of the bowling arsenal, in particular.

But let us assume conditions fairly closely resemble those evident when South Africa so emphatically tamed the Tigers, and also that they will, indeed, sport a genuinely clean bill of squad health for the match (for example, AB de Villiers being in a position to keep wicket).

I believe that South Africa should continue with their satisfying, new emphasis on a heavy spin presence – and that, for me, means places for major wicket-takers thus far Imran Tahir and Robin Peterson, plus the more containing off-spin presence of Johan Botha. (And the possibility of some more minor work from JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis.)

Botha is perhaps the spinner under the greatest threat over his specialist art alone, but I also feel rather strongly that the Proteas cannot contemplate losing his general experience and above all tenure of the No 7 slot – a possible tail starting with Peterson at seven is just too much of a gamble, and the Warriors left-arm spinning allrounder occupying the No 8 berth provides greater comfort in depth terms.

I also like the continued idea of skipper Graeme Smith having at his disposal six “proper” bowling options even before consideration of part-timers like Duminy: thus my XI features the trio of specialist tweakers and a seam component of Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis ... and then just one of two really quality options, I’m afraid, in Morne Morkel or Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

I am leaning a little in favour of the former, simply because he is the kind of bowler who makes batsmen think twice about dancing down the track for the big, aerial drive due to the possibility that their throat or skull might get rather more than a tickle.

Admittedly Morkel has had a reasonable World Cup, without truly setting it alight yet, and his economy rate of just inside five runs to the over is a little more expensive than most colleagues.

So I would not object at all if, on the day of the quarter-final, Tsotsobe, offering a slightly different set of skills, is rewarded for his maiden CWC effort in leaving the Bangladeshi top-order in a state of near-ruin at the same venue.

That leaves the batting to sort out, and whilst Morne van Wyk and Colin Ingram are attractive possibilities and will earn favour with some pundits, I would play neither and go with the most staple “front five” South Africa have employed in recent months (mostly with success) and back the more novice -- but thus far highly promising -- Du Plessis to take care of No 6.

Yes, Van Wyk could be engaged both as gloveman and somewhere in the top three, given his known ability to get stuck into the harder ball, but if you do that you are also probably pushing Kallis to No 4 and De Villiers to five.

And I believe, rather adamantly, that is one spot too low for both key men: the earlier you get the “accumulator” Kallis in the better, whilst you do not want to waste De Villiers’ rollicking instincts by getting him to the crease too late, do you?

Of course there is a bit of “drop Biff” lobby out there, considering the captain’s reasonably wretched personal fortunes at the top of the order.

No way ... there is a bigger picture to consider, including his own laudable embracing of a fresh, bold playing formula by the Proteas, and the fact that he leads a seemingly happy, purposeful band of troopers at this World Cup. (Heard any South African “clique” rumours at this event? I know I haven’t.)

Besides, against Bangladesh the other day I thought I saw signs of the big opener using his enigmatic feet more prodigiously again, which can only be good ...

My recommended side in batting order (albeit making obvious allowance for on-day local circumstances):
Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Johan Botha, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel (or Lonwabo Tsotsobe), Imran Tahir.


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