Cape Town - The challenge of seaming pitches.
If Reeza Hendricks can show the swift degree of growth and booming confidence on such surfaces that he has on a few South African relative “roads” in the Mzansi Super League of late, he could be not just a squad member but key figure in the Proteas’ World Cup quest next year.
Hendricks is talk of the town - no, make that several towns - in the white-ball MSL at present, leading the pack when it comes to runs accumulated (346 from five matches for the Jozi Stars at a sublime average of 115) and also heaving the ball clear of the ropes with greater frequency than anyone else.
The opening batsman has struck 18 sixes, meaning that an impressive 31.21 percent of his tournament runs have come in that fashion.
Maybe that isn’t so special if, for instance, you weigh it up against the career statistics of someone like Chris Gayle, one of the heaviest sluggers of all time in Twenty20 cricket: the big Jamaican has blasted 891 sixes, no less, in amassing 12,081 runs in all T20 matches (international and domestic) - an astonishing runs-in-sixes tally of 44.25 percent.
But then not everybody is Chris Gayle, and Reeza Raphael Hendricks is doing just fine in his own right, thank you, at present.
Especially having come so close to a fairy-tale three centuries in as many innings (a sequence only ended when he was dismissed for a budding 79 against the Cape Town Blitz at Newlands on Tuesday), the 29-year-old is understandably looking a better and better prospect for regular involvement over the next few months in the Proteas’ plans at both one-day international and T20 level.
He’s an incumbent in both, let’s not forget, but a little short yet of being an immovable part of the furniture … something that is promisingly set to change with his MSL prowess.
South Africa have both ODI and T20 home series looming against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, before the critical business of CWC 2019 from late May in the UK.
Hendricks may now have to play unexpectedly badly against both those countries not to earn a passage to what will be a maiden World Cup for him, and it is just possible he goes to it as one of the premier South African hopes for consistent batting success in the tournament.
Visiting SABC commentator and former Pakistani international batsman Aamer Sohail described Hendricks this week as having a “rapacious appetite for runs” … certainly there seems an increasing likelihood we are seeing a relatively late bloomer take a major leap performance-wise.
There are strong shades of Herschelle Gibbs in the sometimes effortless, near-contemptuous way the right-hander slaps fast bowlers back over their heads, confirming his special strength in driving (either lofted or on the deck) through the zone between extra cover and mid-on.
But we have also seen, courtesy of that dazzling ODI century against Sri Lanka at Pallekele in August, the pleasing broader range of his attacking stroke-play around the ground.
Hendricks is certainly helping intensify the competition for places in the top three of the Proteas’ order, where the likes of veteran Hashim Amla and younger Aiden Markram have not been setting the planet alight with their ODI exploits of late.
If he transfers his present hunger and rosy statistical returns into the respective Pakistan and Sri Lanka series, he will certainly be deemed a significant, potential trump card for South Africa at the World Cup.
That said, the Kimberley-born customer has spent reasonably disproportionate periods of his career thus far plying his trade on sun-baked Highveld surfaces, many of them traditionally bouncy but also trustworthy for playing through the line as seam and swing can be negligible.
Hendricks has not yet spent any meaningful time playing high-level cricket in England - an advantage enjoyed by many more seasoned colleagues in the SA ranks, several of whom have played generous quantities of internationals there and additionally sampled the county landscape.
While belters are quite possible if the early-summer weather plays ball at CWC 2019, there is also still a very good likelihood of stubborn cloud cover, dampness and surfaces featuring prodigious lateral movement.
He did feature in three T20 internationals against England themselves during the 2017 all-formats bilateral away series, but hardly got the chance to knuckle down: he was dismissed for three at Southampton, seven at Taunton and nought at Cardiff in the 2-1 reverse.
But while there is no special reason for Hendricks, clearly cock-a-hoop about his own game at present, to fear revisiting those climes, his lack of street wisdom in such conditions does serve as a slight drawback in his case next year.
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