Proteas' ill-preparedness only worsens

2019-12-09 19:25
Vernon Philander
Vernon Philander (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Graeme Smith, if he finally gets on board as director of cricket with the Proteas on Wednesday, is going to have to turn miracle-worker pretty quickly ... especially in getting the frontline Test bowling attack up to speed, as it were.

Bowlers get particularly skimpy opportunities to ply their stamina-requiring trade in Twenty20 cricket, which has been the lone form of domestic activity for several weeks through the Mzansi Super League.

The tournament only ends with the final - already confirmed for the Boland Park home of relative surprise packages Paarl Rocks - on Monday.

Maximum four-over quotas for an extended period hardly amount to the ideal way for seamers, especially, to get necessary miles in their legs for the notably opposite demands of Test cricket.

That format will come - hopefully not too much like an onrushing train? - for the national team on Boxing Day, when they are pitched into action against England at SuperSport Park, the first of four keenly awaited encounters.

Only 10 days separate completion of the MSL (which has also had its good share of unhelpful washouts) and the start of the Test series and, largely as a result of the general, much-publicised meltdown at Cricket South Africa, the Proteas look more ill-prepared in many respects than they ever have been before a major series.

Senior strategic posts immediately above the national team itself have either been occupied on an interim basis or been more wholly vacant ... like the key director of cricket's berth, where Smith (in conjunction with acting head coach Enoch Nkwe) will be required to hit the ground running if there are no further hiccups to his signature being secured in midweek.

It is the major SA bowlers, especially, who will all be frighteningly short of a gallop in the lead-up to the Centurion date, for which several of the rival England players - including all-time top Test pace-bowling wicket-taker James Anderson - have already been hard at work at a camp in the Western Cape.

While Anderson has not had a competitive bowl since August 1, when he tore a calf in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, most of the remainder of the English pace attack have just come off a two-Test tour of New Zealand, so well versed in the durability-related demands of the arena.

While the series was lost 1-0, emerging strike factor Jofra Archer sent down 82 overs across the Mount Maunganui and Hamilton tussles, Sam Curran 74, Stuart Broad 70 and Ben Stokes 53.

Current first-choice spinner Jack Leach was not as busy, only playing in the first Test, but still got 47 overs beneath the belt.

Ironically, this is very much the UK off-season, yet England already look better primed as a bowling unit, considering the scary dearth of first-class play for the Proteas' premier bowlers in recent weeks.

It seems increasingly clear that several Proteas bowlers will need to play either in the round of CSA 4-Day Franchise Series matches between December 19 and 22, or perhaps even be a little cheekily fielded in the SA 'A' side playing the tourists in their second warm-up fixture (three-dayer) at Benoni from December 20.

Unless there are any surprises in store from a yet-to-be-finalised group of South African selectors, the frontline Proteas attack in the first Test is likely to be made up of four from the five players listed below ... with short summaries of their usually lean recent workloads also provided.

Vernon Philander

The veteran lower-order all-rounder's last first-class match was the second Test against India at Pune from October 10. Since then, he has sent down an especially minimal 11 overs in the MSL (across six matches) for Cape Town Blitz, earning a relatively unflattering 1/106.

Kagiso Rabada

Perhaps the lesser demands, workload-wise, of the MSL will prove a blessing in disguise when the spearhead squares up to England, as he had been victim of general overplay for a long time ahead of it. Rabada played all three Tests in the 0-3 reverse in India, and has subsequently offered 26.1 overs (seven matches) for still winless Jozi Stars in the MSL - for figures of 8/218.   

Lungi Ngidi

The bustling, talented but regrettably rather injury-prone fast bowler played just the third Test in India, but then did return to play one franchise four-dayer for the Titans in Bloemfontein, where he could manage only 1/102 from 22 overs against hosts the Knights in late October. He has bowled 20 overs in the Mzansi, and bagged a tidy enough 9/164 across seven outings for Tshwane Spartans.

Anrich Nortje

The 26-year-old tearaway had a baptism of fire in India, his two Tests seeing him bag a solitary wicket at a cost of 179 runs. But he should still feature at some point against the English on preferred, home surfaces. Nortje has sent down 26.2 overs in the MSL for the Blitz, and sports figures of 6/228.

Keshav Maharaj

Well established as the Proteas' first-choice spinner in the Test landscape, his tour of India was cut short by injury after the first encounter at Visakhapatnam. He has since returned to full fitness, though, and in six-matches for the weather-jinxed Durban Heat in the MSL bowled 23 overs (5/152).

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  vernon philander  |  cricket


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