Proteas: Is Duanne undroppable now?

2018-12-27 20:42
Duanne Olivier
Duanne Olivier (AP)

Cape Town - He was meant to be the fill-in for Vernon Philander ... instead he has created a monumental selection headache already for the Newlands Test over New Year.

Pace bowler Duanne Olivier, bristling with unwavering aggression, has made it almost impossible for the Proteas' team management to leave him out after his strike heroics over the course of both Pakistan innings in the ongoing first encounter at SuperSport Park.

The Groblersdal-born competitor proved his career-best first-knock haul of six for 37 was no flash in the pan as he sparked a final-session collapse - hugely timely from a home-outfit perspective - by the tourists on day two to ensure a modest South African victory target, at least on paper, of 149 in the low-scoring encounter.

Pakistan had eased their way to a threatening 100 for one in their second turn at the crease by tea on Thursday, and a handy little lead of 58, but then Olivier quickly struck twice in the space of two personal overs to begin a near-terminal slide to 190 all out.

The procession of dismissals - including completion of a humiliating pair by captain and wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed - must have been harrowing to their coach, former SA mastermind Mickey Arthur, after the once-promising top-order groundwork of half-centurions Imam-ul-Haq and Shan Masood.

Olivier hadn't finished his deeply bothersome pattern, either, as he kept chipping in to earn a second "five-for" for himself and match figures of 11/96 - ensuring that he simultaneously vaulted into the top 10 (in 10th) for best match analyses by South Africans in all Test matches.

Makhaya Ntini, who is in commentary for SuperSport on this Test, was among those lauding his achievement: the Mdingi Express still leads the pack with his haul of 13/132 against West Indies at Port of Spain in 2005.

The Proteas, marked by fragile tendencies at the crease these days and not playing here on the easiest of decks, aren't done and dusted by any means yet: former Pakistan star Ramiz Raja had cautioned not long before the required target figure was known that "150 would not be that straightforward for South Africa".

But with Olivier so strongly to the fore in their attack, they are naturally the favourites from this point - even with lengthy rain interventions threatening on days three and four - to prevail and take a 1-0 lead to Newlands in the three-Test series.

Whether they get over the line at Centurion or botch the job, the Proteas will find it desperately hard to relegate the 26-year-old back to bib-wearer in Cape Town, won't they?

But that is a slightly bizarre possibility on the rising assumption that Philander, the seam ace who traditionally so thrives at his home ground, is passed fit for service at Newlands: he bowled in the Centurion nets on Thursday, seemingly without any damaging after-effects and was also one of the first squad members to embrace Olivier on the home balcony as he returned from the field after his eye-opening further exertions (5/59) in the Pakistani second innings.

Philander, who also offers gritty qualities as a lower middle-order batsman, sports a sublime record of 49 wickets from nine Tests in Cape Town at an average of 16.55.

Long-time former national captain Graeme Smith reminded from behind the microphone that South Africa had a well-established policy of always restoring temporarily injured players once fit again - and with that record at Newlands, Philander ought to be no exception to the rule in a few days' time.

But maybe the likeliest scenario now is for both bowlers to somehow be accommodated, even if it means structural adjustments to the XI: the run chase in the existing Test could be important in deciding whether a specialist batsman, for example, is jettisoned.

Olivier, having finished bowling duties in his sixth Test match and presumably hoping not to have to take guard at the crease one more time, now has 28 scalps at 17.46 since making his debut against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers in January 2017.

He has been something of a revelation in matching both Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada at SuperSport Park in pure consistency-of-pace terms ... and eclipsing both for raw hostility with his short fare, as he has unsettled frontline and tail-end Pakistan batsmen alike.

There is something of a Sylvester Clarke-like quality in the way his bouncer can "follow" batsmen into particularly painful areas of their anatomies even as they think they have evaded the missile.

No Olivier for Newlands?

No way, surely ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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