Cape Town - The glaringly unresolved impediment of their “bowlers who don’t bat” in the 50-overs format could well come back to haunt South Africa all over again in the one-day international series against England starting at Newlands on Tuesday.
Even as the specialist batting department itself in their now only 14-strong, experience-lacking squad is riddled with doubt and insecurity, the Proteas’ vulnerability is simply aggravated by the firm likelihood that they will sport a lengthy tail in the three-game combat.
While both countries clearly intend prioritising in selection terms the Twenty20 series that immediately follows, with the Australian-staged T20 World Cup later in the year strongly in mind, the SA selectors don’t seem to have properly twigged yet to the major weakness that afflicted the Proteas at the last, fuller World Cup in the UK last year - and also a fair bit before it.
You could argue that the situation was only made more acute earlier this week when it was revealed that burly fast-medium bowler Sisanda Magala, an original squad selection as a potential debutant and boasting a reasonable reputation for use of the long handle, had been pulled out of the mix because he hasn’t yet satisfied conditioning requirements.
It curtails the Proteas’ options in an all-rounder capacity for these ODIs - against the world champions - because they have chosen to overlook at least two seasoned, versatile players who were part of the CWC 2019 mix, Chris Morris and Dwaine Pretorius.
Morris has been playing T20 cricket of late for Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League, but Pretorius took part in the 3-1 Test series defeat to the English very recently and his absence is a little surprising: his last two ODI bowling performances, for example, show figures of 10-2-25-3 against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street and 6-2-27-2 against Australia at Old Trafford.
Both were consolation wins for South Africa at the otherwise depressing World Cup for them.
By perusing the 14 names listed in the squad for the assignments over the next few days, it is difficult to assemble a Proteas XI that will look credible for depth down the order in batting terms, unless the brains trust plans to field a seven-strong frontline batting line-up that includes Warriors stalwart Jon-Jon Smuts in a dual capacity as a member of a five-strong bowling attack with his (usually “occasional”) left-arm spin.
That would enable the one true bowling all-rounder in the party, lusty striker Andile Phehlukwayo, to operate at arguably his best spot of No 8 in the order, hopefully meaning that batting credentials at nine, 10 and 11 wouldn’t be too much to fret over.
But if the team is structured in such a way that shrewd, mix-it-up seamer Phehlukwayo (ODI batting average 32.29, though inflated to a degree by a lot of not-outs) is required to bat one berth higher at seven, an expansive tail immediately becomes a very obvious, renewed headache.
In a nutshell, there would be no players below him with anything remotely resembling proven batting credentials at ODI level - and in dangerously many cases showing weak batting stats in domestic cricket as well.
It is probably hoped that left-arm spinner Bjorn Fortuin, uncapped yet at ODI level though with a couple of T20s below his Proteas belt, would be able to transfer his fair enough franchise reputation with the blade to the international landscape.
He averages 28.83 in first-class terms, with three centuries, and 16.48 in List A cricket.
But the remainder of the Proteas’ bowling options generally offer little to no hope of any regular competence at the crease in ODIs.
Paceman Lutho Sipamla averages 5.00 in first-class cricket and 7.00 in List A with the bat, Lungi Ngidi (the most experienced fast bowler in the squad with 22 caps) averages 5.45 and 13.83 respectively, mystery spinner Tabraiz Shamsi 7.76 and 7.23, and left-arm quickie Beuran Hendricks 9.79 and 8.55.
That puts South Africa at a significant disadvantage over an England squad - even minus the resting, brilliant genuine all-rounder Ben Stokes - who will still feature among their frontline bowlers men with decent batting reputations like Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali and the Curran brothers, Sam and Tom.
Whether England bat better in the series as a collective remains to be seen, but they are almost sure to bat deeper on paper ... not the first ODI foes to boast that often influential advantage over the Proteas.
Reminder of SA’s now only 14-man squad:
Quinton de Kock (capt), Reeza Hendricks, Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Jon-Jon Smuts, Andile Phehlukwayo, Lutho Sipamla, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi, Bjorn Fortuin, Beuran Hendricks, Janneman Malan, Kyle Verreynne.