Cape Town – He has personally acknowledged that he was among
the errant characters with the bat in South Africa’s reverse to Pakistan ...
but it is JP Duminy’s short-lived bowling effort in Auckland that may have spooked
the Proteas more at the World Cup.
Whilst opinion remains massively divided about the optimal
shape of the South African XI, the team’s brains trust would have pleased some
observers – at least immediately ahead of that game – as they finally tried the
“seven frontline batsmen” formula for the first time at the tournament.
Of course it automatically meant that, ideally, Duminy would
contribute as near as possible to a full 10-over bowling stint to make up for
the resultant trimming of a bowler.
The trouble was that the Pakistanis, quite possibly in a
concerted, pre-planned initiative, got stuck into his off-breaks with some
relish – three overs leaking a damaging 34 runs -- and the Proteas found
themselves instead having to entrust captain AB de Villiers with the bigger
share of the fifth bowler’s duty with his essentially part-time, tranquil
Between them, the pair conceded 77 runs in nine overs which
undid much of the yeoman work done by their more specialist bowling quartet in
what was a reasonably low-scoring affair.
De Villiers wasn’t all bad: after travelling for 20 runs in
his first two overs, he came back fairly commendably to end with an analysis of
6-0-43-1 and some immeasurably more competent bowlers than he is have taken
greater stick during the largely batting-friendly event so far.
Think, for instance, of Steven Finn’s gruesome concession of
49 runs from only two overs for England against a Brendon McCullum-fired New
Zealand, and even that feared chin musician Mitchell Johnson copping a 68-run
walloping in six overs from the very same Black Caps at Eden Park only a week
before the Proteas ran out there.
Yet the stark fact remains that Duminy -- undoubtedly
intended beforehand as the weightier bowling contributor than De Villiers on
the day -- had a difficult, necessarily curtailed stint just when he was most
firmly under focus in that department.
The question for coach Russell Domingo and others to ponder is
whether the diminutive “offie” merely had the kind of bilious day any bowler on
the planet can experience from time to time.
Simultaneously, they will have to decide whether there’s been
enough evidence that someone like De Villiers can be a suitable, more
consistent fill-in option against quality opposition if Duminy is targeted and
part of his tab has to be picked up, as it were.
Interestingly, now after six bowling stints in his 184 one-day
internationals – and most of them pretty recently – De Villiers’ average
(31.00) is actually slightly better than that of squad-mate Farhaan Behardien
(33.25) who is another possible candidate to share a 10-over quota with Duminy
In fairness, Behardien boasts a better economy rate: 5.34 as
opposed to De Villiers’s 6.45, although there increasingly seems little to
separate them as dibbly-dobbly seamers.
Still, it will be making Domingo and his lieutenants
understandably nervous that Duminy, for all his occasional usefulness and
variety on the bowling front, has still only ever completed a full 10 overs
four times in 88 bowling stints at ODI level.
His World Cup 2015 performance thus far is iffy, too: a
combined total of 18 overs across three matches (Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan) at
a cost of 118 runs, for one wicket at an economy rate of six and a half.
Yet muddling the huge team-composition quandary further is
that, at the end of the day, South Africa surrendered their latest match more
on the grounds of over-zealous and rash batting by various, key individuals
than through collective bowling woe.
They will know they could -- and should -- have hunted down
the required 232.
Beefing up the bowling once more helps them in one
department, but what then of the weakening effect on a batting line-up just
beginning to show signs of a tentative psyche and unhealthy dependency on De
Villiers for game-tilting carnage?
Admittedly without abundant confidence, a personal view –
and I accept it won’t be universally shared -- is that the Proteas should show
some backbone rather than jerk a knee: give this formula a further chance to
work rather than scuttle back to past models also laden with imperfections.
There are all sorts of other factors to take into account,
of course, like Quinton de Kock’s continuing CWC misery at the front of the
order – at what point do you pull the plug? – and considerable uncertainty over
the fitness of Vernon Philander for the business end of the World Cup.
Let’s face it, this is not an especially enviable time to be
selector of a Proteas ODI team, as no combination under present circumstances
will look emphatically watertight.
The only comfort for the time being, as the closing Pool B
challenge of minnow United Arab Emirates looms in Wellington on Thursday, is
that South Africa should win that one even if they were to pick eight blessed
bowlers for it ...
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