Proteas' bowling depth faces stern test

2017-01-06 14:30
Wayne Parnell (Gallo)

Cape Town - Morals and principles aside, the loss of Kyle Abbott just hurts. 

The 29-year-old had become South Africa's new ball bowler in all three formats and was set to be a key figure in this year's ICC Champions Trophy. 

He had come into his own on the Test stage and had finally carved out a place in that side that looked set to be his for as long as he was bowling this well. 

Now, in the middle of the South African resurgence, he is gone. 

The pace trio of Abbott, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander had the perfect balance of pace, accuracy, control and movement. 

It showed in the performances and, ever since the second Test in Australia, the South African seam attack has looked potent. 

With Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel out injured and also getting on, a player of Abbott's quality was a major attribute for the Proteas at a time in which they have been desperate to get back to the top of the pile in Test cricket. 

But, just like that, they must move on and find another seamer who can perform at Abbott's level. 

Proteas management will obviously be thinking long-term here, but in the short-term they must find someone for the third Test against Sri Lanka in Johannesburg starting on January 12. 

Wayne Parnell looks almost certain to get the nod, but the fact that the uncapped Duanne Olivier has also been called into the squad speaks volumes about how big a blow Abbott's loss is. 

There is no doubt that Olivier is deserving - he has been doing the business on the domestic front for a while now and is the leading wicket-taker in the Sunfoil Series this season - but it is the fact that he is untested at international level that stands out. 

Philander, Abbott and Rabada was a seam attack that felt tried and tested, even if it wasn't as a combination.

Despite having played just 11 Tests, Abbott has been on the scene for nearly four years and had played the game long enough to provide a certain confidence. 

That Rabada was the youngster in the line-up was reassuring. 

Parnell has played just four Test matches, the last of which came in 2014. 

He has gone back to the drawing board, fine-tuned his game and is absolutely worthy of another crack at Test level, but he is also largely unproven. 

It is never nice to think about, but should one of Philander or Rabada pick up a niggle or need a rest before Steyn and Morkel are fit again, then all of a sudden the bowling attack would be very green indeed. 

After Parnell, Olivier appears to be next in line, but who would come after him? 

"I'll be very honest in saying that in Test cricket you need experience. That is the most important thing," Proteas captain Faf du Plessis acknowledged after his side's 282-run win in Cape Town on Thursday.

"I'll use the England series (home, 2015/16) as an example. We didn't have enough experience in that bowling attack and we didn't bowl as well as we should have.

"It's now about making sure that we look at who the next guys are who can fulfill that role and try and get them ready. With the experience that you have in Vern and KG and hopefully Morne and Dale ... we could start bringing in a guy to have them work with great bowlers and getting them ready before their chance comes."

Morkel (32) is set for a return to action soon and could be an option for the tour to New Zealand in March while Steyn (33) is eyeing the England series in July. 

But, even if those players are fit, the reality is that they don't have that long left. 

When one factors in that Philander is also 31, then the need to unearth young, talented fast bowlers on the international stage becomes even more urgent. 

It also makes it easy to understand why so many critics are almost paranoid when it comes to the workload and management of Kagiso Rabada. He has a major role to play in the years to come. 

But, for the time being, resting him seems unlikely. 

"Only if there are injury concerns and the medical staff feels that he needs it," said Du Plessis.

"For me it's really important to make sure that we keep winning Test matches. I understand the importance of resting players and I feel there is space for that, but I don't feel KG is there yet."

Read more on:    proteas  |  kyle abbott  |  kagiso rabada  |  cape town  |  cricket


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