Rabada issue influences Proteas’ shape

2018-03-19 12:05
Kagiso Rabada (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Whether South Africa are able to field Kagiso Rabada may have a strong bearing on how the Proteas balance their team for the third Test against Australia at Newlands from Thursday.

Should the appeal – the hearing began on Monday morning -- against his suspension succeed, and he is suddenly available for duty against the odds in the final two encounters, then coach Ottis Gibson and company arguably have a more straightforward task in shaping their XI later this week.

There would be a good chance they stick to the “four bowlers” policy (so seven specialist batsmen) that earned them a handsome six-wicket victory in the second Test at Port Elizabeth.

The attack might well stay identical, too: Rabada as the continued, main go-to figure for pace and aggression, supplemented by Vernon Philander, who traditionally revels in conditions at his home ground, Lungi Ngidi and left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.

But what if the ordered muzzling of Rabada for the remainder of the series simply stays intact? Is it really so cut and dried in those circumstances that veteran speedster Morne Morkel duly returns, amounting to a direct swap for Rabada, and nothing else is altered in the Proteas’ furniture?

Gibson, after all, is usually more comfortable having at least four seam options, and will be aware that despite the comfort of Morkel’s rich experience and specific virtues, he isn’t statistically as likely to “run through” a team as jewel in the crown Rabada is.

Morkel is a fine asset as a pressure-builder and with his ability to stick the ball into the batsman’s ribs – he is also still tantalisingly three wickets short of 300 wickets before his international career closes at series end – but his strike rate is not in Rabada’s league.

For those who don’t know, Rabada currently sports the fourth best strike rate (38.9) in Test cricket history, using the prerequisite of a minimum of 2000 balls, and second only to New Zealand’s Shane Bond (a whisker ahead at 38.7, in third) of cricketers from beyond the 19th century.

He also, of course, now boasts as many as four 10-wickets-or-more match hauls from 28 Tests, a feat Morkel (career strike rate 54.4) has not managed yet in 84 Tests.

There are many, many inferior options for quality than the popular “Morras”, 33, as a direct replacement for Rabada, should it be necessary, but if the in-form spearhead is kept out of the team, the Proteas may well contemplate beefing their attack to include a fifth customer, on top of Morkel’s restoration.

The still green Ngidi (three Test matches) oozes long-term potential, but he is not yet used to bowling with the consistent pace and intensity Test cricket against blue-chip opponents requires, so a fourth prong to the pace arsenal will be a reasonably attractive prospect to the brains trust.

If Rabada is kept side-lined -- he is the comfortable leading wicket-taker in the series so far with 15 at 16.80 -- the coach and his lieutenants will be wondering whether three seamers is enough to do the 20-wickets job against the Baggy Greens, with help from Maharaj’s slow fare, at Newlands.

Interestingly, the updated squad named for the third and fourth Tests features two all-rounders not yet used in the series, Chris Morris and the uncapped 20-year-old Wiaan Mulder.

With specialist middle-order batsman Theunis de Bruyn struggling to assert himself to this point against the Australians (6 and 36 in the Durban loss, 1 and 15no in the PE triumph), the temptation should be quite strong to bench him again in favour of a versatile customer.

The enigmatic Morris has had his problems this season, but he also possesses a big heart and an attacking mindset – including proper pace when there’s a bee in his bonnet – and may be deemed worth a gamble for a personal fifth Test cap on Thursday.  

Here are the two starting line-ups the Proteas could well be toying with the closest in the Newlands lead-up:

With Rabada: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (capt), Theunis Bruyn/Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi.

Without Rabada: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (capt), Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris/Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Morne Morkel, Lungi Ngidi.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  kagiso rabada  |  cricket


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