Proteas: Mulder to slot in at seven?

2018-02-27 17:50
Wiaan Mulder (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Let’s just say there’ll be good company among the subs.

Four players, considering the 15-strong nature of the Proteas squad, will kick their heels in game one of the enticing four-Test series against Australia at Kingsmead from Thursday.

But Wiaan Mulder, the rookie bolter in the party and possibly seen by some as “there to learn”, may have a better chance than many people realise of cracking the nod.

If coach Ottis Gibson and his co-strategists fancy a compromise sort of player in the team, somewhere between going either outright specialist batting- or bowling-heavy, then the 20-year-old versatile customer instantly shoots to the front of the queue.

A former pace bowler himself, Gibson seems to fancy depth to the attack, a hallmark already apparent in the recent 2-1 Test series triumph over India, where a minimum of five “proper” bowlers were always fielded.

But it did mean that the Proteas sported a lengthy-looking tail … plus the relative unreliability of a few of their premier batsmen in the series made for some anxious moments at the crease in the various contests.

Considering the special menace by reputation of Australia’s attack, there has been understandable speculation that the home team will wish to bulk up the batting in this series – even if that automatically means a sacrifice from the bowling arsenal, to bring it down to a quartet.

So seven out-and-out batsmen, including wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, and then a mere four-man bowling unit cannot be ruled out.

In that scenario, one of those bowlers will very likely be the left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, who sat out the closing, dead-rubber Wanderers Test against India but seems almost assured of returning at his home ground, where conditions ought to demand the inclusion of at least one slow bowler.

The Aussies are considered no great shakes again the wilier of spinners, so Maharaj could play an important role in the series as a whole.

Kingsmead has been pretty kind to spinners in recent Test matches.

You cannot gauge too much from the savagely weather-disrupted last Test at the ground (SA v NZ, August 2016), when all of the last three days were abandoned in a mundane draw, but a sign that there might have been some turn was in the Proteas fielding off-spinner Dane Piedt and the Black Caps ensuring they had left-armer Mitchell Santner in their XI.

In the Test before that, when England beat the Proteas by 241 runs in December 2015, Moeen Ali picked up seven scalps for England and Piedt six for the home cause.

But returning to Maharaj also means South Africa will have to omit one of their four frontline seamers - possibly leaving Gibson feeling just a little fidgety.

There is at least a partial way of avoiding that, and here’s where the claims of Mulder intriguingly come in.

Push him into the likely terrain - for him, you’d think - of the No 7 slot, serving as both a competent batsman and more than capable medium-pacer, and the coach can at least feel the bowling options haven’t been too greatly diluted, whilst the tail would look a little sterner if Vernon Philander could shift back down to eight and focus more on his critical move-it-off-the-seam duties.

Clearly some in the Proteas’ hierarchy have a high regard for the young Gautenger, having axed as many as two other all-rounders – Andile Phehlukwayo and Chris Morris – to make room for him in the squad.

His exploits domestically for the Lions in recent weeks and months have been steady more than they have been spectacular, although he does average above 60 with the blade in the Sunfoil Series as things stand.

But he may just sneak a Test debut on Thursday because of the type of bridging player he is, staving off more radical decisions having to be made in balancing the team …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



Read more on:    proteas  |  wiaan mulder  |  cricket

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