Proteas: Their options in PE

2017-12-21 12:59
Ottis Gibson (Gallo Images)

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.

Two 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.

After all, 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.

So the 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.

For example, 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 Tuesday.

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 bowlers’

I lean toward this as the most attractive option, frankly, although expected conditions - pitch, weather, lighting - will naturally have to be taken into account.

South Africa 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 and handsomely.

That would 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

Let’s face 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.

Under such 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.

Assuming the 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.

Not ideal.

Seven batsmen, four bowlers … but all-seam?

Under this 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 speedsters.

Look, it’s 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!).

Still, that 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

Deeper into 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.

That would 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.

The 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?

*In summary, 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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ottis gibson  |  cricket


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