Cape Town - To
borrow a cycling analogy, nobody seems to be breaking profoundly from the
peloton when it comes to the various all-rounders pressing for World Cup berths
in the Proteas squad.
the significant question, then, of whether the primary brains trust - head
coach Ottis Gibson and the selection panel - should keep their versatile
customers to a relative minimum when they put together the increasingly tricky
15-strong party required for the tournament in the UK from late May.
it: frontline bowling options are pleasingly vast and impressive, both when it
comes to pace and spin, and it is hardly a secret that Gibson loves a meatily-stocked
attack - some would say to the substantial detriment of batting depth.
Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi: just those already
look like near-definite picks on the out-and-out bowling front (Shamsi as
back-up to Tahir because of the belief that “mystery spin” could play a major
role at the event).
But a real
bun-fight is developing for the major batting berths, with some suggestions at
this stage that the Proteas will earmark only seven slots for that purpose.
Do the quick
maths and you should work out that there will one unlucky customer, under that
formula, from the following eight (naturally a few are certainties anyway):
Captain Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, who should also be the lone dedicated
wicketkeeper, Hashim Amla, Reeza Hendricks, Rassie van der Dussen, David
Miller, JP Duminy and Aiden Markram.
last-named player, left out of the first three one-day internationals against
current bilateral opponents Sri Lanka, is the talk of the moment following his blistering
pair of domestic Momentum One-Day Cup knocks for the Titans over the last few
days: 169 against the Cape Cobras from the middle order, and then 139 against
the Warriors from the top.
But if he is
recalled, both for the closing two ODIs against the ‘Lankans and then also CWC
2019, someone from the remainder of that group is endangered if there is to be
a one-batsman cull.
mystery, for example, surrounds the absence of veteran great Amla from the
initial part of the Sri Lankan series: he has been under-performing quite
glaringly by his enormous standards for a long time, and is clearly a worry.
But it would
still be a massive call if, for example, he was to be made the stay-at-home
victim: you don’t summarily chuck away 174 caps of experience and almost 8 000
runs - especially when the nearly 36-year-old sports a sublime ODI batting
average of almost 57 against all foes on English pitches.
attractive alternative to curtailing the batting department to seven, I now
quite firmly believe, is to trim the all-rounder quota to just two.
three in the present, 14-man squad doing duty against Sri Lanka - Andile
Phehlukwayo, Wiaan Mulder and Dwaine Pretorius - while there is also still a
well-subscribed Chris Morris fan club, although rightly or wrongly he doesn’t
appear to be part of World Cup thinking at this point.
their merits, and varying levels of strengths, plus all-rounders always have
that scope for bringing sometimes vitally necessary balance to a team ... at
least on paper.
particularly of late, we have seen little in the way of truly wowing
performances at ODI level from the group, even if some have had more curtailed opportunities
If you pick
as many as three of them for the World Cup squad, then, will they really make
game-tilting differences; dazzle the planet with their X-factor?
Mulder especially concerns me: for all his obvious long-term potential, he has
played nine matches for South Africa to this point, which isn’t a lot, and the
best batting performance he can show is a 19 not out, while his top bowling
haul is two for 59.
him - that much is apparent - but time is also running desperately short for
him to produce something a little beyond the ordinary; to prove that he could catapult
to mastery on the biggest, most stressful stage there is.
Right now, a
personal inclination would be to limit the Proteas’ World Cup designated
all-rounders to two (let’s not forget Duminy’s additional, part-time
a backdrop, my first choice would be Phehlukwayo, who has hunger, an excitement
factor about him when the mood grabs him and a pleasing determination to keep
knee-jerk nonsense, as has happened on social media, for people to suggest I am
somehow “anti” Phehlukwayo as a batsman. No, the man hits a wondrously long
ball when his timing is working a treat.
simply said that I believe in an ideal world his best slot in that capacity is
No 8, rather than one spot higher where he would probably be gateway to an
extremely fluffy tail indeed.
He remains a
relative rookie, remember, to the technical demands of batting in England, and
at this stage of his development No 7 in that country seems ... well, overly
that’s a risk the Proteas are prepared to take, then the best of luck to them, and
meanwhile, is coming on in leaps and bounds: he has stopped being excessively
prone to mix-it-up stuff, which can become almost as formulaic as showing no
variety at all, and is striking nice balances between variation and disciplined
English pitches are slow and grippy, as some anticipate, Phehlukwayo has the
potential to be a big bowling factor at this World Cup.
and only other all-rounder, if I were picking the CWC squad now, would be one
of Pretorius or Morris.
And then you
can free up the luxury, potentially, of sporting more of a Full Monty (or read:
eight players) in batting resources.
say it’s a batsman's game ... and increasingly so?
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