Cape Town – Back
in the fearsome heyday of West Indies cricket, they used to talk reverently of
the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” in their pace department.
It was a
reference to the period in the early 1980s when not only did they field a
quartet of highest-class speedsters, but all four were formidably tall,
assault-and-battery specialists on hapless batsmen: Michael Holding, Joel
Garner, Colin Croft and Andy Roberts.
something especially thrilling in Test cricket, to this day, when a team feels
confident enough, and conditions justify it, to put out a four-pronged pace/seam
Park may seem anything but the likeliest of venues – and they will almost
certainly have a need also for emerging specialist spinner Keshav Maharaj – but
it is not out of the question that the Proteas will be strongly seduced by the
thought of all of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada
steaming in against Zimbabwe in the once-off, floodlit four-day Test
“experiment” from Boxing Day.
appealing scenario, of course, has never yet come to fruition.
strong and durable Rabada has been a near ever-present in pure fitness terms since
he made his debut against India at Mohali in November 2015 (21 further caps
have followed) but the more advanced-age other three have suffered layoffs of
varying lengths in the interim.
So there has
not yet been the opportunity to see them operate as a formidable -- undoubtedly
on paper – unit.
ducks are gradually getting into a promising row for the prospect, especially
with the news earlier this week that beanpole Morkel is ready to return to
service for the Titans in the Ram Slam T20 Challenge.
put him in line, assuming his comeback from a side strain goes according to
plan, for a place in the Test squad for the Zimbabwe date.
also earmarking that clash for his own keenly-awaited first Test appearance
since November last year, so if Philander and Rabada are in suitable fettle all
four should be in the extended squad for Port Elizabeth.
them all actually playing, too?
depend very much, just for starters, on the balance to the XI that new coach
Ottis Gibson and company favour for the southern African “derby”.
this week that regular captain Faf du Plessis (back issues) remains doubtful
for Boxing Day may tempt the Proteas brains trust to simply risk going a
batsman light against the minnows – not the greatest gamble they would ever
have taken, let’s face it – in favour of a five-strong bowling attack (four
quicks, plus still a big role for left-arm spinner Maharaj).
former Test paceman, may well still be partial to finding room for a
seam-bowling all-rounder like Andile Phehlukwayo or Chris Morris, but if they opt
to bypass that type of player, the way would be clear for the presence of all
four proven, specialist fast men.
that despite St George’s Park’s reputation as a slow, back-breaking surface for
pace bowlers, this Test is a maiden day/nighter in the country and the coastal
strip could behave very differently in the late afternoon and then night
fans who recall the days of Rod McCurdy and Brett Schultz steaming in under
lights there during the old Benson & Hedges night series for Eastern
Province will testify to the fact that there was often plenty of “juice” to
Park is also renowned for its occasional up-and-down hallmark as matches
develop, which would interest someone like Morkel with his ability to extract
Proteas should not have to fret too much about their ability to make a suitable
tally of runs over either innings against their limited neighbours, even if
their tail would look a tad lengthy beyond that under-rated batsman Philander
at possible No 7.
Given the novel
four-day flavour, the onus will probably be greater on the bowling front to get
the 20 wickets job done in the unusually tighter time frame, and SA having five
options (always comforting in the event of someone breaking down) does seem to
make good sense.
Proteas indeed be keen, then, to unleash their own-styled version of the
“apocalypse” on the pace front (and there is no Du Plessis on the batting
front), this is what their XI against Zimbabwe might well look like:
Dean Elgar (capt), Aiden Markram,
Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander,
Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Morne Morkel.
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