Proteas' pace obsession continues

2019-02-25 21:28
Ottis Gibson
Ottis Gibson (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - This is a time of almost unprecedented angst around South Africa's batting, across the formats ... so the trick, it seems, is to introduce another new fast bowler.

Coming as it does for the Proteas' final series before the World Cup, against Sri Lanka, is it really the right time, too, to be blooding Anrich Nortje, however exciting a prospect he may prove?

It is a question that warrants deep scrutiny, whatever the correct answer.

Fresh off watching the Test team produce one of its lamest two-innings showings on home soil, and sensationally conceding the series 2-0 to rank underdogs Sri Lanka, batting aficionados would hardly have felt appeased when the composition of the squad for the first three ODIs was revealed at the weekend.

Notably overlooking probably the most gifted and technically accomplished of the younger batsmen in the country in Aiden Markram, as well as labouring but proven heavyweight top-order veteran Hashim Amla, the selectors revealed a hand that seems glaringly top-heavy in favour of bowlers and bowling all-rounders.

Respected former domestic-level and broadly well-travelled coach Dave Nosworthy made a sage observation on Twitter as he perused the 14-strong squad, suggesting it looked more like a group for Twenty20 purposes than one for the 50-overs environment, where a longer batting line-up is generally considered advisable for obvious reasons.

It is difficult, frankly, to disagree with Nosworthy: the squad only seems to deepen the perception in some circles that head coach Ottis Gibson, in conjunction with the wise men, goes that bit too gaga at times in ensuring a well-stocked speed arsenal to the detriment of the batting trade.

Think about it a bit more deeply: for ODI purposes you generally require the comfort of reliable batting resources to around the No 8 position - at least - but five bowlers can often be enough in that department if no single soul in the attack has taken overly traumatic "tap".

So your squad balance should logically lean more toward batting depth: instead this Proteas party includes a threadbare five out-and-out batsmen (including lone wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock) and as many as nine players who bowl, even if that includes a handful of mostly bowling-geared all-rounders.

Two of the bowlers are spinners - fair enough - but there are effectively seven seamers, including four genuine shock bowlers in Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, fit-again Lungi Ngidi and now new cap Nortje.

The 25-year-old from the Eastern Cape has also been fast-tracked despite the fact that he is really getting the nod on the strength of his form at T20 level considerably earlier in the season (before he got injured) in the Mzansi Super League.

It is going to take some herculean achievements, if he even gets on the park from the packed cupboard of quickies, over the next fortnight or so for Nortje to catapult himself into the World Cup mix, so a personal view is that next season would have been a better bet for his blooding.

And what to make of the "no Amla" situation?

While the official line is that the Proteas brains trusts knows what they have in Amla - well, obviously, after 174 ODIs and 7 910 runs - and still consider him part of the senior core of Proteas, it is nevertheless curious that at precisely a time when he appears in need of the tonic of meaningful runs, he is instead being side-lined for the lion's share of this series.

Are Gibson and company coming increasingly to the belief, at a critical juncture in CWC preparation, that the great man's eyes, and perhaps even legs, would be a liability at the major jamboree?

But if the soon to be 36-year-old Amla is, indeed, still genuinely part of the battleplan, it is strange that he goes dormant at this point, when opportunities ought to present themselves at the Wanderers, SuperSport Park and Kingsmead for solid vigils on rather overdue, much-needed phenomena in South Africa: belters for stroke-players.

For the moment, however they shape their XI, the Proteas have given the currently cock-a-hoop Sri Lankans the understandable belief that if they can get two or three quick wickets, more pronounced trouble for the hosts at the crease may not be far away at all.

It is difficult to escape a perception that South Africa are going to try, once again, to primarily bomb the Sri Lankans into submission - if they can, and maybe that "if" should be placed in capital letters now? - through pace.

If so ... excuse me while I yawn.

You've got to be cleverer and much more multi-pronged than that to win a World Cup.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ottis gibson  |  cricket


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