Cape Town – Lower-order all-rounders Ryan McLaren and Wayne
Parnell look increasingly tenuous as World Cup 2015 options for South Africa.
At best, the pair may now be fighting for one berth in the
squad for the global tournament from mid-February although neither, in truth,
advanced his claims for a passage there during the just completed 4-1 ODI
series hammering at the hands of Australia on some of the very terrain that
will stage CWC contests.
Although they made heavy weather of chasing down their
target in the final fixture at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday, the Aussies
at one stage looked like romping to victory and the five-match combat will have
left the Proteas’ brains trust with plenty of thinking to do.
Many experts and enthusiasts back home had initially fancied
AB de Villiers’s side to win the series, so the eventual outcome was something
of a wake-up call as Australia slipped happily into top spot on the ODI
rankings and SA were left in third, also behind India.
One silver lining was that several of the matches were
closely-contested for the most part, so the Proteas should remain a fair enough
bet for elusive World Cup honours, despite the historical jinx that still
It was also true that they played the entire series without key
middle-order batting factor and off-spinner JP Duminy and also came within a
fight-back whisker of pinching the last game at the SCG without the services of
rampantly in-form skipper De Villiers.
Then again, Australia played the lion’s share of the
itinerary minus such figures as Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson, so they
similarly didn’t have their maximum-strength arsenal a lot of the time.
It was a series in which really only one South African, the
world’s top-ranked ODI batsman De Villiers, consistently sparkled individually
– 271 runs in four games at an average of 67.75 – and that went some way to
explaining the Proteas’ woes.
No compatriot came close to him for batting excellence
statistically, although it was encouraging that in creeping up to second on the
averages (177 runs at 35.40), young Quinton de Kock registered progressively
bigger scores with just about every game and it culminated in a maiden century
for him Down Under in Sunday’s dead rubber nail-biter.
He is clearly a suitably fast learner about Australasian
conditions and it could stand him in good stead for a productive World Cup.
Speaking of the global get-together, the Proteas may
reasonably expect better showings there than in the latest series from staple
figures like Hashim Amla (series average 31.20) and particularly Faf du
Plessis, whose highest score was 31 and average ended as low as 19.40.
On a more positive note, accomplished knocks in the fifth
ODI from both Farhaan Behardien (a breath of fresh air for aggression in the
closing overs) and Rilee Rossouw saw them mount timely charges for CWC spots –
they may still hope to nail down things in the looming home series against West
South Africa’s bowling averages from this series looked
pretty humdrum collectively, with Vernon Philander topping them for his six
wickets at 21.83 and respectable economy of 4.51 in three outings.
Though imperfect at times himself, Kyle Abbott probably
slightly advanced his claims for an ongoing seam bowling berth in two steady
appearances – he looks the Proteas’ coolest head for important “death” duty.
Morne Morkel was typically, frustratingly enigmatic in this
series, following up a career-best 5/21 in the second WACA game with greatly
less impressive figures of 2/84 and 2/69 in two further matches.
But perhaps the two biggest losers in the series were really
the bowling all-rounders, McLaren and Parnell, who frankly lacked X-factor
either with the ball or bat, even if opportunities at the latter trade were
often more limited for them.
It is not as though they are finding their feet at this
level, as they sport almost 100 ODI caps now between them, but just seem to
have flat-lined of late in the national strip.
McLaren, especially, has gone seriously off the boil at a
bad time, after looking so integral to the 50-overs side several months back:
in the Aussie series he registered unflattering figures of 1/166 in 26 overs at
an economy rate of well over six runs to the over and he was also expensive in
one ODI bowl during the New Zealand mini-series immediately preceding this one.
That is a concern given that the World Cup is staged jointly
by those very two countries.
If South Africa decide from here to assemble a side
comprising best possible specialist batsmen and then take a not dissimilar
approach to bowling strategy, then both these currently “bitty” and tentative
yet supposedly versatile customers may well be endangered.
Parnell and McLaren had better hope like hell that they get
opportunities against the Caribbean visitors in the next few weeks to lift
their performance curves decisively ... or both might miss the flight back
across the Indian Ocean in late summer, even if you suspect there may still be
one ticket to wrestle for between them.
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