Cape Town - The widespread extent of the fairly glaring “non-batsmen” among their bowlers could prove a decisive drawback for South Africa at the looming Cricket World Cup.
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On the bright side, remember this much: the Proteas, who are due to reveal their 15-strong party later on Thursday, should almost unfailingly put out an attack which, on paper, is as challenging and penetrative as any at the tournament.
But if their frontline batting only confirms fears that it is less heavyweight both in reputation and statistical delivery than the country has boasted in several earlier generations of SA one-day international squads, the potential for a worrying “perfect storm” at the crease could surface in some earnest.
There is little reason, according to my information, not to believe that convenor Linda Zondi will name the following six out-and-out bowlers in the intended CWC mix: Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi.
All-rounder duties will be shared between Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and veteran middle-order batsman JP Duminy.
But that will also mean that the half-dozen bowling specialists listed – even being mindful of the fact that they certainly won’t all feature in XIs together -- effectively only pile additional pressure on the batting department to fire with suitable consistency.
For truth be told, South Africa’s potential for tail-end effectiveness – in the instances where it may become necessary -- will be more limited than that of several major rival nations.
It is a cruel comparison, considering just how notably opposite a phenomenon currently exists in the camp of England (who will also be among the hottest favourites for the tournament), but the host nation will have the incredibly useful luxury of knowing that they bat so deep that any top- or even middle-order crisis in specific games will not automatically be a train smash for them.
England are also the Proteas’ tournament-opening opponents at The Oval on May 30, a game that could set up Faf du Plessis and company for a rousing campaign, slightly against prevailing odds … or place them on the back foot quicker than they would like for later semi-final qualification in the round-robin event.
Even at this fairly long-range point, it is perhaps educative to look at some of the key batting stats of each squad’s (likely) six least proficient willow-wielders.
In the provisional England CWC group announced on Wednesday, that group would consist of Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, David Willey, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and Tom Curran.
They will also, of course, have the enviable access to at least two quite genuine all-rounders in the form of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali, who boast as many as 11 Test and six ODI centuries between them and can also be entrusted with copious amounts of World Cup bowling.
But there’s still a sobering amount of proven blade-power among that English “bottom six”, if you do the perfectly reasonable exercise of examining both the current ODI batting stats of the group and their first-class ones (the latter generally serve as an especially good yardstick of consistency and competency at the crease).
Using the ODI figure first and first-class next, these are the batting averages of England’s specialist bowlers: Woakes 26.64 and 35.34, Curran 23.66 and 17.72, Rashid 19.59 and 32.48, Plunkett 19.46 and 25.00, Willey 18.84 and 26.57, Wood 9.00 and 21.38.
Now peruse the Proteas’ own “worst-batting” six: Ngidi 20.00 and 5.14, Rabada 14.35 and 12.00, Steyn 9.35 and 13.71, Tahir 8.11 and 14.22, Nortje 8.00 and 15.75, and Shamsi 0.00 and 8.01.
Combine the ODI batting averages of the English six studied here and you get a figure of 19.53: the South African equivalent figure is 9.96.
Similarly, when you do that exercise with the first-class batting averages, the English group present a figure of 26.41 and their SA counterparts 11.47.
There is a considerable gulf, on both occasions.
Don’t get me wrong, the Proteas will have comforting strengths in plenty of areas at this World Cup; I am not writing them off.
My statistical and observational fears on the bottom-end batting front may also prove a spectacular irrelevance from late May through to mid-July, and there will be some teams boasting rather more similar drawbacks to theirs in the tail.
But I have a nagging hunch, nevertheless, that that bottom-end batting frailty COULD come home to bite South Africa at inconvenient times during CWC 2019.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing