Cape Town – There would be more heinous crimes in cricket.
In their heydays, for instance, you simply would not omit
Jacques Kallis from your batting line-up at his beloved Newlands, where he
notched 2,181 Test runs at a giddy average of 72.70, or Victoria-born leg-spin
ace Shane Warne at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where he bagged 56 wickets at
only 22 in 11 appearances.
While not in the same league of legend as those retired
greats, long-serving South African pace beanpole Morne Morkel just seems a
“must pick”, given his most notable hallmarks, for any surface renowned for its
healthy carry and steepling bounce.
There aren’t too many of those left on the international
circuit, regrettably, as modern strips are geared far more for extrovert
stroke-play than they are for the once more conspicuous chin-music culture of a
couple of decades ago and well before that too.
But if there’s one remaining pitch that doggedly retains –
granted, perhaps only just – its reputation for being kind to the shock-bowling
trade, it is the hallowed WACA in Perth.
It is for that very reason that I have mixed, tormented
feelings about the likelihood, it appears, that South Africa will limit their
speed arsenal to three (including one, in Vernon Philander, who traditionally
plies his nagging seam trade at something nearer to medium pace) for the first
Test against Australia at the venue from Thursday.
Outright express stuff, then, seems destined only for the
hands of veteran Dale Steyn and the considerably younger but undoubtedly
exciting Kagiso Rabada, who has not quite been in optimum personal form over recent
For all his proven majesty, am I the only one who develops a
mildly worried frown whenever the 33-year-old Steyn clutches that right
shoulder to check that it is suitably intact, or stretches those well-worked
hamstrings at the top of his run-up?
Those are just some of the additional reasons why,
irresistibly, it seems ill-advised that the Proteas will leave the lanky Morkel
in the proverbial shed for the key first encounter.
The natural instincts of Steyn, Philander and even Rabada a
lot of the time veer that crucial bit more toward fuller lengths: Morkel, with
his back-of-a-length penchant, would offer important variety and hugely aid the
quest to inflict “bodily harm” in a bilateral tussle historically renowned for
its take-no-prisoners ethic.
On Tuesday, colleague Lloyd Burnard presented a lucid, well-argued
case for the (expected) inclusion of the hitherto uncapped Dolphins left-arm
spinner Keshav Maharaj in the Proteas XI, which would then emulate the already
confirmed Aussie policy for the WACA encounter of fielding three specialist
pacemen plus their own slow-bowling stalwart Nathan Lyon.
The Baggy Greens will, of course, enjoy the minor luxury which
the Proteas won’t – assuming Maharaj plays ahead of a fourth quickie -- of
having a usable fourth seam option in the shape of versatile middle-order
batsman Mitchell Marsh.
But for all the obvious merits of having at least one
specialist spinner in your midst, wherever you are playing on the planet and
particularly for second-innings purposes as the surface deteriorates, I am not
convinced the Proteas have properly thought through their spin policy for this
Remember that when the squad set off from our shores, the
slightly more “mystery” spinner, Tabraiz Shamsi, was most observers’ choice as
likeliest source for exploiting known Aussie discomfort against the trade –
something evidenced again on the crumbling pitches in Sri Lanka quite recently.
Suddenly the slightly more orthodox and conservative-styled
Maharaj appears to have vaulted Shamsi in the pecking order, however … primarily
on the unconvincing grounds that he proved less expensive in relatively
low-value warm-up combat on the venture.
Considering how much time a spinner may be required to
perform a largely holding job at the WACA over the next few days, I admit to a
feeling that South Africa might have been better served had they still enjoyed the
seasoned, astute services of a player like Paul Harris (a particularly renowned
run-strangler) or Robin Peterson.
There can be little doubt that the Aussie batsmen will try
to rapidly unsettle a debutant SA spinner – be it Maharaj or Shamsi – in much
the same way as they infamously brutalised Imran Tahir, albeit playing in his
11th Test, at Adelaide Oval (0/260) four years ago.
If they manage that, the heat will only be turned up
appreciably more on a presumably already hard-grafting SA seam trio.
I am not going to crucify the Proteas brains trust – especially
from so far away, which naturally lessens any legitimacy -- if they do decide
to blood either of the untried spinners on Thursday.
Indeed, it may bear very useful fruit, and there’s always a
certain, unique pleasure in watching any new tweaker strut his stuff at the
premier tier of the game.
But no Morne Morkel at this ground?
Hell, it somehow rankles.
Yes, you guessed it. I’d still be inclined toward a
four-bomber approach …
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