Cape Town - If
it’s further pointers to head coach Ottis Gibson’s broad Test philosophy for
the Proteas that you seek from the Boxing Day fixture in Port Elizabeth, you
may have to wait a little longer.
already-completed - and predictably one-sided - home Tests against Bangladesh,
and now a further, imminent once-off against Zimbabwe are hardly the best
yardsticks of the Barbadian’s desired structural formula for the national side.
playing the 10th-ranked southern African neighbours in a day-night
affair at St George’s Park presents entirely different demands from the next
assignment, against top-ranked India in conventional red-ball circumstances at
Newlands from January 5.
composition and balance of the Proteas’ XI in PE hardly means the formula will simply
stay a carbon copy when Virat Kohli and his in-form troops amble confidently
into Cape Town.
There may be
at least some element of horses for courses in the historic, floodlit and
four-day occasion in the Friendly City, and perhaps also some consideration for
fitness levels right now among certain, key individuals.
it may not be a cut and dried matter yet that Dale Steyn - currently having
his first, seemingly very measured multi-day gallop in well over a year at
Boland Park for a SA Invitation XI - takes his place anew as spearhead on
It is also
far from certain that captain Faf du Plessis, after respective back and
shoulder problems, will play against Zimbabwe.
But if all
14 of the named Proteas squad are, indeed, deemed available for selection on
Boxing Day, here are the options facing the brains trust:
A straight ‘six batsmen, five
toward this as the most attractive option, frankly, although expected
conditions - pitch, weather, lighting - will naturally have to be taken into
shouldn’t sweat too much about a fairly lengthy tail against these foes,
figuring that a stellar top six - wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock at the back end
of it - really ought to get the bulk of the runs-scoring task done confidently
mean a “seven to 11” potentially featuring five outstanding bowling
specialists: Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada (it might be nice to see him
entrusted with batting at eight, considering booming potential with the blade),
Steyn, Keshav Maharaj and Morne Morkel.
But it would
also probably mean both Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn twiddling their
thumbs in PE rather than getting the opportunity to knuckle down against the
limited Zimbabwe attack ...
Seven batsmen, four bowlers
it, the ever-present transformation consideration is made a bit smoother if the
Proteas opt instead to go batting-heavy, at the expense of the bowling.
circumstances, the tigerish but still not quite heavy-scoring enough Bavuma is
far more assured of retention, as fringe customer De Bruyn would then be the
lone “idle” batsman in the squad.
But (and maybe
that should be in capital letters?) if the Proteas are going to field the still
fairly undercooked Steyn in a mere four-strong attack, there’s a very dangerous
thinness to their options should someone, and not necessarily the Phalaborwa
Express, break down.
great likelihood the impressively developing left-arm spinner Maharaj plays
here, any niggle problems for a pace bowler would strip SA down to a two-man
seam battery, immediately starting an overload situation for certain
individuals just as the Test season finally comes into its hectic own.
Seven batsmen, four bowlers … but
brew, SA would stick to seven batsmen, but take the considerable risk of
omitting Maharaj and decide to crudely “bomb” the Zimbabweans with four frontline
not out of the question - even if it would normally be deemed sacrilegious to
ignore a dedicated spinner at St George’s Park.
This being a
day/nighter, the pitch and atmospheric conditions could be much more conducive
to pace than usual for PE Tests (and remember there are no ‘day five’
deterioration circumstances for a spinner!).
leaves the Proteas only with the part-time fare of Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram
for slow-bowling contribution. Yes, that’s a little perilous, isn’t it?
Six batsmen, but with one seamer being
‘bridging’ player Andile Phehlukwayo
the summer Test programme (which only gets markedly more difficult shortly),
the Proteas may well be seduced into balancing their XI a bit better between
bat and ball by employing an additional bowling all-rounder to Philander.
mean that, while there’d be only six batsmen as such, Nos 7 and 8 would be in
capable enough policing hands through Philander and one of Phehlukwayo or Chris
Morris; the latter currently with a minor injury but certainly an attractive
option in the new year.
For the PE
game, Phehlukwayo, not exactly in finest touch during the Ram Slam T20
Challenge for the relatively little it is worth, is the only additional option
to Philander as that type of customer.
21-year-old did play both Tests against Bangladesh in spring with moderate
success ... but is he really worthy of inclusion at St George’s Park with so many
statistically-weightier players, either in batting or bowling, also sticking
their hands up very keenly from the squad?
this might be the eventual Port Elizabeth team: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar,
Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (or, if not properly fit yet, Temba
Bavuma), Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Keshav
Maharaj, Morne Morkel.
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