Cape Town – Their squad depth heavily compromised by
injuries to core personnel at present, the tottering Proteas are testing their
pretty modest reserve cupboard to the full.
Particularly on the batting front, the team to face
currently rampant India in the third of six one-day internationals at Newlands
on Wednesday (13:00) is almost inevitably going to look closer in character to
a SA ‘A’ outfit than the more customary senior national side.
Already 2-0 down and trounced each time, Monday’s
confirmation that opening batsman and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock has a wrist
injury – laying him low until perilously close to the Australian Test series
from early March – only speeds up the haemorrhaging of proven match-winners at
the crease by the Proteas.
De Kock is still relatively young at a recently-turned 25, and
in the midst of a rare slump with the blade, but he sports 90 ODI caps and 3 860
runs at an average of 45.
Throw in the caps and runs of two other current heavyweight absentees,
captain Faf du Plessis and primary crowd-pleaser AB de Villiers, and the squad
gingerly shifting toward the Cape Town clash has given up a total of 432 appearances
and a whopping 17 754 runs from that trio alone.
In such circumstances, receipt of some pain for those left
behind – especially when you are playing a crack outfit like India – is
virtually a fait accompli, although the particularly gory nature of the respective
Kingsmead and SuperSport Park results so far is already casting some doubts
around the range of quality batting at South Africa’s disposal.
The team that will take to the field on Wednesday will
almost certainly feature at least three rank rookies in ODI street-wisdom terms
amidst its pivotal top six: acting captain Aiden Markram (three caps to this
point), Khaya Zondo (one) and a definite debutant now in the next-in-line
gloveman Heinrich Klaasen.
Perhaps a little cavalierly considering how collectively
brittle the SA batting looks – neither of the more seasoned David Miller and JP
Duminy in the middle order are setting the world alight – the Proteas have
announced that they will not be adding an extra batsman to the squad to
compensate for De Kock’s void.
At least there is still one reasonably attractive option
(considering his excellent 2017/18 domestic form for the Titans) from the
“bench” in the form of slightly long-in-the-tooth Farhaan Behardien.
Still, at a time like this, and rattled by the sorry implosion
to 118 all out at Centurion on Sunday, might it not also have been a shrewd
idea to consider restoring someone like the gritty Test opener Dean Elgar, for
example, to the ODI plans?
The left-hander at least has a strong reputation for
knuckling down in pressure situations, even if only a lean total of six ODI
appearances have come his way between 2012 and 2015., and his part-time spin
isn’t the worst you will ever witness, either.
On that note, the general SA batting fragility is such that
it may not be completely beyond the bounds of possibility that they chew on the
tactic of beefing the XI with one additional batting specialist – the tail has
looked dangerously long thus far – and making their “bowler five” a combination
of part-timers Duminy, Markram and Behardien.
Yes, that will also trigger more than a bit of a shudder
among Proteas observers and enthusiasts, but desperate times, desperate
measures and all that?
Of course, close scrutiny of the Newlands pitch produced by
Evan Flint – traditionally one of the premier curators in the country – will go
some way to dictating how the Proteas balance their team to try to halt the
Indian freight train.
In addition to the specific team humiliated by nine wickets
at SuperSport Park (and now stripped of De Kock), the Proteas squad as
presently constructed boasts extra options in Behardien, Andile Phehlukwayo,
Lungi Ngidi and Klaasen, with the last-named man assured of playing on
The 26-year-old, Pretoria-born Klaasen, like Behardien, comes
off sprightly form in the Momentum One-Day Cup, having notched 359 runs from
his last seven matches in that competition – he is a clean, hard striker – at
an average of around 51.
Someone like strike bowler Morne Morkel may be just about
due a mini-break after featuring in all three Test matches plus the first two
ODIs against India, so either – and possibly both -- of Ngidi and Phehlukwayo
could see service in the match.
That said, if you take out Morkel, there go a further 114
caps at this time of substantial unease …
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