Cape Town – Is an instinctive “attacker” the correct way to
go? Or should the Proteas be more committed to “defence” in the position?
That may sound more like parlance from some kind of
footballing debate, but it is relevant to the national Test cricket team … and
more specifically the issue of the second all-rounder to Vernon Philander in
the lower middle-order.
At least for the time being, it seems as though South Africa
have decided to sacrifice their seven-batsmen formula, which meant they were formerly
curtailed to fielding only four specialist bowlers.
In some circumstances, a quartet can be enough to perform
the all-important task of taking 20 wickets in five-day contests, but drama can
creep in unpleasantly if one bowler gets injured or ill during a match and the
load becomes near-insufferable for the remaining trio, albeit possibly aided
from some emergency dibbly-dob stuff from players who wouldn’t ordinarily bowl
Such a scenario hugely heightens the risk of failing to bowl
out the opposition twice, whilst the four-bowler limitation is also far from
ideal in situations where Tests are played back to back and the same attack is be
pressed into service for both matches, raising durability and stamina issues.
There seems reasonably widespread approval, then, for the recent
rebalancing of the SA Test team, even as the frontline batting collectively
shows worrying, lingering evidence of inconsistency.
But it still leaves the question of exactly what type of
bowling all-rounder is the best fit: should he be a genuine “strike” figure –
the suit incumbent Chris Morris certainly fits, by nature – or perhaps a bit
more of a patient, run-strangling character?
After all, in his later years of glittering versatile
service, Jacques Kallis was really the fifth element of the bowling line-up
and, with his pace considerably down on his younger years, also tended to put
more of a focus on containment which freed whoever was operating at the other
end to be more attack-minded.
With Morris in the bowling division as the new “extra guy”,
we have seen deeply confusing signals, over the course of the contrasting Trent
Bridge and Oval Tests, on whether his traditional, up-and-at-‘em
characteristics really suit the team’s needs.
In short, he’s had one notably good (Nottingham) and one
near-rank bad (The Oval) Test on this tour so far, meaning that the decisive
clash at Old Trafford from Friday –
South Africa must win to share the series – could yet come to represent some
kind of tipping point for Morris in the Test set-up.
At Trent Bridge (a handsome 340-run victory) he was in the
game, as they say, to a pleasingly enduring extent: he scored a commendably
measured – somewhat against his instincts – 36 in South Africa’s first knock of
335, cleaned up the English tail in their reply for an analysis of 3/38, and
then in the second innings ripped out the hosts’ two most treasured names at
the crease, Alastair Cook and skipper Joe Root.
Morris’s contribution was well beyond encouraging … but then
he promptly undid all those personal gains in a follow-up display in London
characterised by bowling “beehives” in both innings from the lanky 30-year-old
that looked as if they might have exploded, such was his inaccuracy and failure
to sustain pressure.
He was the Proteas’ worst liability, to be blunt, in
England’s first-innings advance in challenging conditions for batting to 353
all out, leaking at almost five and a half runs to the over en route to
unflattering figures of 1/91 in 17 overs.
The 2/70 from 11 overs that he returned in the home team’s
push-things-on second turn at the crease looked more like figures from a bowler
who’d suffered some tap in a one-day international, never mind a Test match.
So who is the real Chris Morris?
Well, perhaps it is too early anyway to be making a
definitive judgement: assuming he cuts the retention nod for Old Trafford, it
will still only represent his fifth Test appearance.
In all the international formats, Morris has shown more than
mere glimpses of his excitement factor, if you like, as he likes to charge in
full-heartedly in his bowling style – he ought to only get progressively wiser,
too, in his ongoing “education” with the Dukes ball -- and is an increasingly
clean, lusty striker of the ball when he is at the crease, especially in
limited-overs cricket with its clear-the-ropes needs.
He’s just got something … something that makes you feel,
warts and all, that he adds value.
But I’d also wager that if he proves fatally wild and woolly
all over again in the vital Manchester date, the Proteas brains trust may well
begin to just train their thoughts a tad to the possibility of introducing,
instead, a more containing type of seamer all-rounder for future needs.
If you argued that the current frontline bowling quartert of
Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and left-arm spinner Keshav
Maharaj offer enough in the way of X-factor and breakthrough clout, then the
alternative claims to Morris of men like Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine
Pretorius could come under increased scrutiny if Morris falls short of
expectations again, in this red-letter Test match.
Phehlukwayo was a debatable presence in the broader Proteas
Test squad in England, and fairly predictably has seen no service in the series
thus far; his first-class figures (535 runs at 19.10, 36 scalps at 35.97) don’t
exactly scream “pick me” for five-day battle at this point.
But he also has youth firmly on his side, aged only 21, and
those figures are quite likely to head agreeably northward over the next few
Perhaps the worthier challenger to Morris for a spot in the
Test XI at this particular juncture is Dwaine Pretorius, currently representing
SA ‘A’ in the limited-overs triangular on our shores but whose “FC” statistics
are undoubtedly eye-catching.
The 28-year-old fellow-Highvelder sports 2,123 runs at
42.48, and 127 wickets at 21.81. (Morris in first-class terms has 2,096 runs at
30.82 and 166 poles at 25.30.)
Those batting figures by Pretorius indicate that he has the
potential for comfort and solid, meaningful vigils as a Test No 7 or 8, whilst
the economy rate that accompanies his first-class bowling (2.74) points
spiritedly to his strength in “control” terms – the very area Morris is under
harsh scrutiny for, heading into Friday.
Whilst the Proteas will not wish to see the incumbent –
assuming he plays the Test – too noticeably turn down the temperature on his
natural attacking zeal as a multipronged cricketing package, Old Trafford also
gives Morris a necessary opportunity to show that he can, indeed, help his
fellow-bowlers in exercising due patience when required.
Building pressure, rather than trying too constantly to
“bomb” people out, remains a key pillar at times to Test cricket success.
Can he just tweak his ways a touch? Over to you, Mr Morris …
*Follow our chief
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