Cape Town – Three candidates, one place ... that is the
likely scenario for the specialist spinning berth in South Africa’s World Cup
There are other headaches for the selectors and coaching
staff to deal with in the wake of the disappointing 4-1 ODI series surrender to
Australia -- main host nation for the CWC jamboree from mid-February – but sorting
out that specific slot could be a particularly tough one.
It is less because of an embarrassment of riches, perhaps,
than it is about finding the right man from a trio of currently moderate, but
quite closely-matched candidates who each bring strengths and drawbacks to the
Those three are Robin Peterson, the incumbent, plus Imran
Tahir and Aaron Phangiso, both of whom are currently nursing injuries but
likely to be ready well in time for World Cup consideration.
It is highly unlikely the wise men will see fit to include
two out-and-out spinners for Australian and New Zealand conditions, because
batsman JP Duminy, touch wood, will have completed his own rehabilitation from
injury and provide the second option on that front with his off-spinners – it ought
be more than sufficient for the Proteas.
So the three-way scrap between Peterson, Tahir and Phangiso
is almost certainly for one passage.
Ahead of the latest series, with its undesirable outcome,
leggie Tahir seemed fairly nailed down in the main spinner’s berth – it needs
to be remembered that he did well in the victorious New Zealand mini-series
immediately before it and a few SA World Cup fixtures will be played there.
His ODI statistics remain very good and his biggest strength
is his ability to take wickets in the middle phase of opposition innings, with
his free-spirited mixture of the conventional and prodigious use of wrong and
But he brings risks because he can be prone to attack on a
wayward day – and sometimes not even that – and the Aussie batsmen generally
had his measure pretty comfortably until his knee injury curtailed his series a
few days back.
Tahir managed just one wicket in three bowling efforts and
twice did not complete 10-over spells; he is also an inconsistent fielder and
no natural athlete in that regard, whilst his batting is that of a typical
hit-or-miss No 11.
As the leg-spinner’s series was cut short, the never-say-die
Peterson stepped into the hole decently, culminating in a heroic “death” spell
of bowling with welcome, ice-cool body language as the Proteas almost stole the
fifth ODI in Sydney on Sunday from a situation where a real walloping had
seemed on the cards only a few overs earlier.
As he gets older and wiser, Peterson simultaneously gets
more varied and skilful, even if it is no secret that he is not a prodigious
turner of the ball unless conditions truly facilitate that.
He is also capable of either working the ball around deftly
at the crease or using the long handle, something not present in enough South
African tail-enders these days in the 50-overs arena, while his fielding stays
largely top-notch despite his advancing years.
The claims of Phangiso cannot be brushed aside, simply
because he has been sidelined since late October with a middle-finger injury
that should see him back for his Lions franchise quite shortly.
People can have short memories, and it was only a few weeks
ago that he looked the business for run-strangulation in the triangular series
in Zimbabwe, won by the Proteas: included by the left-arm spinner from
Garankuwa were two tight performances on the trot against the Aussies.
were dusty and helpful, and the faster and truer Australian pitches, in particular,
would be rather more challenging for Phangiso – he also plays definite second
fiddle to both Tahir and Peterson for street wisdom at the highest level and
like the former is not really a batting factor of any shape.
Happily, Phangiso is in the selection frame wholly on merit,
but it cannot be overlooked that Cricket South Africa will be under inevitable political
pressure not to exclude a black African player from the CWC squad, so that may
boost his chances in certain respects.
My choice, if the CWC squad were picked here and now?
Very close call, but the admittedly slightly “safe”,
conservative one of Peterson, given the extra cricketing strings to his bow and
vastness of his experience.
ODI track records of
Robin Peterson (age
Batting average: 20.59
Imran Tahir (age 35)
Batting average: 13.00
Aaron Phangiso (age
Batting average: 9.00
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