ICC Champions Trophy

Proteas: Places on the line

2013-06-10 11:37
AB de Villiers (AFP)
Cape Town – South Africa fight for their ICC Champions Trophy survival against Pakistan at Edgbaston on Monday (14:00 SA time) ... and the same may well apply to a few of their personnel.

Especially given their infamously brittle track record in recent years at global get-togethers, there will be a massive outcry back home if the Proteas bow out depressingly early, with their remaining group fixture against West Indies likely to be academic should they lose the Birmingham day/night affair.

Rightly or wrongly, there would be a clamour for changes, even if hysteria tends to surface to a crazily lopsided degree in such circumstances.

Already, vultures are circling following the first-up defeat to India in Cardiff, with a couple of seam bowlers – mostly notably Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Rory Kleinveldt – particularly fingered by less forgiving elements, albeit that some have dubious agendas for wishing them to fail.

After all, both men took their worst respective “tap” in completed 10-over stints in one-day internationals last week, Tsotsobe conceding 83 runs and Kleinveldt 81, and were the biggest culprits for inconsistent lengths against the Indian stroke-players.

Given the frustrating likelihood that champion strike bowler Dale Steyn will again sit out a tournament match, ODI debutant Chris Morris (a welcome up-and-at-‘em sort of character) for the now also crocked Morne Morkel may well be the only alteration to the SA mix from the team that lost by 26 runs to the No 1-ranked Indians.

There are really no other options available in the pace department under current circumstances, although with an abrasive surface reportedly in prospect, perhaps the Proteas will be tempted to tweak their batting line-up to accommodate the wobbly little medium-pace suffocation a player like Farhaan Behardien could provide to a degree – you would not back him for many more than four or five overs, however.

Batting was not where AB de Villiers’s team lost the first contest: they did pretty well to get past the 300-mark in reply to India’s formidable 331 for seven which always made them favourites from the game’s midway point.

With Robin Peterson excelling as a No 3 pinch-hitter until his unfortunate run-out, the top eight from Cardiff, all the way down to the in-form all-rounder Ryan McLaren, seems sensibly set for retention.

If there is one batsman under a cloud of scrutiny, it is the left-handed Colin Ingram, who was debatably thrust into unfamiliar terrain as an opener against India and was quickly dismissed for six in the third over.

But he probably deserves another crack: axing him after a lone go at the job would smack of a knee-jerk approach and perhaps also panic, which is something the camp will be seeking to avoid in a game that is a do-or-die affair for both sides at Edgbaston.

The truth does remain that Ingram has been an enigma in 25 ODIs thus far: he averages a fair enough 37.30 but has developed a habit of either going significantly “big” or not at all.

This could be last-chance saloon for him, especially with exciting young Quinton de Kock – rookie warts and all -- knocking at the door for selection.

But Kleinveldt and Tsotsobe are flirting with possible sidelining as well -- one of the slightly cumbersome pair may not even make it out to the middle on Monday should the Proteas decide to field their second specialist spinner in the squad, Aaron Phangiso.

The pitch will probably have to look like a rank turner for that to happen; De Villiers has already pointed out the obvious by saying that you are not adding great variety by playing both Phangiso and first-choice Robin Peterson, as both are of the left-arm trade.

Besides, part-time off-spinner JP Duminy is bowling well enough to suggest he could feasibly fill a second 10-over quota of slow bowling if required.

Something both Tsotsobe (considerably more experienced with 45 ODI caps) and Kleinveldt (still only eight appearances) would do well to remember if they do get shots at redemption against Pakistan is that they have shown significant mettle in national colours before.

The tall left-armer has bowled with admirable economy and early breakthrough thrust in many ODIs previously, even if he is better suited to bouncy South African-type tracks where he can find the splice of the bat regularly.

Of course “Lopsy” does always play at limited-overs level under the pressure of knowing that he is not a contributor with the bat and that his fielding can be a weak link in a side once revered for its collective gazelle-like qualities in that regard.

 Kleinveldt, I believe, sometimes cops more criticism than he warrants (much of it comes because people criticise his bulk, something that has plagued him for several years even as he has striven determinedly at times to sort it out).

He can come across as a bit of a gentle giant, but has occasionally also shown strong nerve as a death bowler.

The Cape Cobras customer is also not averse to spiritedly silencing detractors: he did so at Test level in Australia not too long ago, after a problematic, short-notice debut in Brisbane (0/97 in the lone Aussie innings).

Kleinveldt quickly bounced back with some key scalps and much better consistently at Adelaide.

With a bit of luck, any team/squad composition debate will go into a merciful holding pattern on Monday: for all their uncertainty in some slots and the drawback of several seasoned troops being absent, the Proteas are still well capable of beating the eternally fickle Pakistanis.

Possible SA team in batting order for Monday’s key encounter: Hashim Amla, Colin Ingram, Robin Peterson, AB de Villiers (capt), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Chris Morris, Rory Kleinveldt, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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