Proteas: Violent shake-up won’t be the answer

2018-07-16 13:02
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Cape Town - Shake the bag?

That would be an understandable appeal from some circles following one of the most wretched, lame Test defeats by South Africa - to limited Sri Lanka in Galle - of the post-isolation era and perhaps even some way before it.

Yet when you examine the overall squad resources the Proteas assembled for the short, two-Test mission, it becomes pretty apparent that any “strengthening” from outside the current XI, for the pivotal final clash at Colombo SSC from Friday, comes with desperately few guarantees of that actually being the case.

Widespread changes, to be brutally frank - and also bearing in mind that just about everyone in the 15-strong party has had little competitive cricket of late, the reserves even more so - seem no more likely to spark the stirring strike-back required at short notice to square the mini-series.

Here’s a reminder of the “outsiders” available as alternative options to personnel involved in the thumping first-Test reverse, which included an especially worrying inability by the batting division to muster even a miserly 200 runs across two full innings: now regular “fringe” batsman Theunis de Bruyn, wicketkeeper-cum-batsman Heinrich Klaasen, young fast bowler Lungi Ngidi and leg-spinner Shaun von Berg.

De Bruyn has played five, admittedly on-and-off prior Test matches for an average of 14, and none yet in Subcontinent conditions, Klaasen and Von Berg are uncapped at Test level, and for all his vast potential Ngidi’s trio of appearances in the format have all come on vastly different South African turf.

There is also a credible case for arguing that bowling was not a significant eyesore for the Proteas in Galle: their five-strong attack generally did their business smartly enough, even if leakage of tail-end runs was an irritant in both Sri Lankan knocks.

With the hosts posting purely moderate totals of 287 and 190, that should really have been a cue for South Africa not to play nearly so second a fiddle at the crease as they did.

No, instead of going back to a seven-four split on paper between batting and bowling, from the status quo of six-five, I believe the solution lies far more in the existing top six instead bucking up their games to the extent we already know from many previous instances they can.

Some of them have had at least a modicum of improved “middle” time now, to banish those winter cobwebs - expect some notably intensive practice sessions over the next few days as well - and ought to have dogged redemption thoughts at the very front of their minds.

Considering how little he was used on the bowling front in the first Test - eight overs in the first innings, just three in the second - there have been inevitable suggestions that Vernon Philander sit out Colombo to facilitate at least one freshening gesture from the brains trust.

But that overlooks one rather vital fact.

As Shaun Pollock noted in commentary for SuperSport: “His batting has been as good (in Galle) as anyone’s”.

Philander negotiated more deliveries (124) in total than any other team-mate during the first Test and looked one of the more sensible, resolute and technically accomplished of the batsmen as he registered his 18 and 22 not out.

If the seasoned all-rounder was to be very questionably sacrificed for the second Test, it would undoubtedly have to be for an extra batsman rather than a bowler in his No 7 slot, as the generous length of the Proteas’ tail is already an Achilles’ Heel for them.

He somehow looks the last of the truly durable characters in the batting order, if you like, before you get into men who are likelier to require good dollops of luck and a cavalier spirit to prosper to any meaningful extent in the runs column on Asian surfaces.

A personal belief, if coach Ottis Gibson and company want to retain a five-strong bowling arsenal while taking at least some kind of step to bolster the batting down the order, is that Von Berg should be the likeliest topic for selection scrutiny in Colombo.

The Titans leggie, 31, has five first-class centuries to his name, and although you should never really select a bowler on account of his batting, the current woes in higher berths could somehow bolster his chances of being a direct swap for the one of the incumbent spinners – probably franchise-mate Tabraiz Shamsi?

Unorthodox Shamsi had some encouraging moments in his second Test appearance for the Proteas, but although their styles are quite different, if you select him alongside longtime first-choice tweaker Keshav Maharaj you are basically fielding two left-arm spinners.

Von Berg would introduce a more markedly different angle of attack, and it could be submitted that his wholly untried status at the premier tier of the game is potentially a small weapon in embattled South Africa’s favour for the series decider.

That said, he was comfortably out-bowled statistically by Shamsi (for what it’s worth) in the lone tour warm-up match, so a wholly unchanged SA XI, unpalatable though that might sound to some, should not be dismissed as unthinkable …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ottis gibson  |  vernon philander  |  cricket


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