CWC: Proteas’ spin ‘problem’

2014-09-09 22:27
Imran Tahir (Gallo)

Cape Town – South Africa have issues again over spin bowling.

Only this time it’s different, as we’re not talking poverty of resources for a change: their two front-liners in one-day internationals are delivering such consistently tidy performances that it is probably tough for the team’s brains trust to decide who exactly the main man is.

Certainly on the evidence of the Proteas’ encouraging conquest in the triangular series in Zimbabwe recently -- where they knocked over old foes Australia twice in three meetings, including the final – a battle royale is developing between Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso for that mantle.

It is a strangely healthy state of affairs, and not the worst development bearing in mind the five-month countdown now to the next World Cup.

With established batsman JP Duminy still a regular, supplementary contributor with his off-spin, it is pretty likely that South Africa will only need one specialist slow bowler per match at the keynote Australasian-staged tournament.

That raises the question not only of which of the in-form pair to give the most employment to at the World Cup (assuming they’ve retained their mojo ahead of it), but also whether it is justifiable more broadly to take both Tahir and Phangiso among the traditional 15-strong squad.

Pace and seam bases, of course, will also need to be properly covered.

At the last World Cup in 2011, where the Proteas blew out at the quarter-final stage, no fewer than three were accommodated in the squad: Tahir, Robin Peterson and the now Aussie-based Johan Botha.

But that was because the tournament was staged on the notably spin-friendly Subcontinent; in Australia and New Zealand pitch conditions will be decidedly different even if the slow craft certainly can still have a strong role to play at times.

A personal hunch is that if both Tahir and Phangiso continue to impress -- either in tandem or separately -- in ODI obligations in the lead-up months (against New Zealand and Australia away, plus West Indies at home) then both may somehow be squeezed into the CWC squad brew.

One reason for suggesting it may be feasible is that they are such different beasts, and that a horses-for-courses policy might serve the Proteas well.

In short, left-armer Phangiso is a fairly traditional defensive weapon in the 50-overs format, relying more on accuracy and variations of pace and flight than really pronounced turn ... and he’s doing his stock stuff increasingly decently.

The box-of-tricks character, by contrast, remains leg-spinner Tahir, the likelier “strike” factor with his variety of deliveries, including devilish, skiddy straight balls and a well-established wrong ‘un that both tail-enders and certain specialist batsmen alike can struggle to read.

This animated, journeyman cricketer will always be prone to the odd full-toss or long hop, and it is one explanation for his Test record being notably fickle, but in ODIs this year his discipline has generally been something of a revelation – it is some time since he took a genuine walloping and he continues to snap up wickets at vital times of opponents’ innings.

Tahir can be said to have settled into the ODI environment after 22 appearances for his adopted country, in which he has grabbed 42 scalps at an average of 18.92 and not-to-be-sneezed-at economy rate of 4.25.

Phangiso has 14 wickets at 34.21 from a total of 12 ODIs, with economy of 4.44, but it is instructive that his last seven games for the Proteas, all this year, have seen him be infinitely less “leaky” than his tentative first five, all in the 2013 calendar year.

He travelled at five runs or more to the over in every game he played last year, whereas in the current one he is conceding at below five runs to the over without fail, and on four of those occasions an especially praiseworthy less than four.

Yes, you may argue that five of his seven fixtures in 2014 have come against lowly Zimbabwe, but the southern African neighbours were also much more competitive in the triangular than most critics would have imagined.

The 30-year-old from Garankuwa, north of Pretoria, also ticked two enlightening boxes by not being collared by the ever-cavalier Australian strokeplayers, turning in two full stints against them without conceding 40 runs in either.

You would be fully entitled to submit that his on-the-up performances happily transcend any political considerations, but it is also an inescapable truth this week that Government agitation is mounting speedily on the sports transformation front, particularly with regard to the demand for far bigger black African representation in major national teams.

So Phangiso’s strides are timely, considering the strong likelihood that South Africa’s showcase World Cup squad will not be allowed to be minus at least one cricketer fulfilling that criterion. The way things are going, he should only earn his ticket most majestically on merit.

To re-emphasise their excellence, here are the 2014 ODI analyses of both Tahir and Phangiso:

Imran Tahir

7-0-50-3 v Sri Lanka, Colombo

10-1-41-2 v Sri Lanka, Pallekele

10-0-29-1 v Sri Lanka, Hambantota

10-1-44-3 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo

9-1-26-2 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo

10-0-45-2 v Australia, Harare

8-0-32-1 v Zimbabwe, Harare

10-0-42-1 v Australia, Harare

10-0-40-1 v Australia, Harare

Aaron Phangiso

9.5-0-43-3 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo

8-2-34-1 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo

6-1-13-1 v Zimbabwe, Bulawayo

8-0-33-2 v Zimbabwe, Harare

10-0-39-2 v Australia, Harare

10-0-38-1 v Zimbabwe, Harare

10-0-36-0 v Australia, Harare

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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