Two spinners? Proteas wrestle their instincts

2019-01-24 13:12
tabraiz Shamsi
Tabraiz Shamsi (AP)

Cape Town – It will bubble and bubble … but will it remain largely hot air?

The issue of South Africa and two attack-minded spinners in their game-day bowling arsenal at the 2019 World Cup keeps coming up, and understandably so given global trends in the one-day international format.

Several sides, including the very best there currently are, will not be shy to field a “mystery” spinner and be as tempted to field a duo if conditions – a great unknown in England in early-summer, as so much could be weather-dependent – appear to warrant it.

One thing seems fairly close to certain: both of the Proteas’ usefully less-than-orthodox tweakers, evergreen Imran Tahir and the increasingly street-smart Tabraiz Shamsi, will be in the 15-strong squad.

Linda Zondi’s national selection panel must know that they will be seriously castigated by pundits and public alike back home if the pitches prove dry and turning in the UK from late May through to early July and they do not, at very least, have that second specialist at their fingertips.

A personal belief is that both Tahir and Shamsi will be on the plane, and that the more pertinent issue will be whether they do end up operating in tandem for specific matches at the tournament.

Bear in mind that if it is gloomy, damp and overcast -- either enduringly or at specific times and varying venues – paradises for seam bowling may also be a notable feature of the World Cup.

The Proteas ought to be no less decently-geared in that department, of course, so Zondi and company need not have sleepless nights on that front.

It is certainly in the modern South African DNA to believe the country’s consistently skilled and aggressive battery of pacemen will be effective in most conditions, and regardless of format.

That hallmark has probably only been heightened, too, by the presence of a certain Ottis Gibson as the Proteas’ head coach: the Barbadian was an illustrious top-level quickie himself, a renowned fast-bowling scientist and mentor, and clearly has a special passion in that area.

Put it this way: he tends not to like putting out SA XIs with even a hint of short-staffing in pace and seam.

So the Proteas, collectively, would be fiercely grappling their instincts if, on any red-letter dates at the World Cup, there was a suggestion from the pitch that it would be worth jettisoning a speedster to ensure that Tahir and Shamsi could provide a potential 20 overs between them.

Just one reason to suspect that they will lean more toward a “halfway house” approach on the spin front, if you like, is the likelihood that a fit-again middle-order batting veteran JP Duminy will be firmly ensconced back in the team.

He has not seen service during the Pakistan ODI series as he continues his patient rehab from right-shoulder surgery, but if he is deemed ready in time for the limited-overs portion of Sri Lanka’s tour in March, the 192-cap stalwart should be able to use it as a stepping stone back into the mix for CWC 2019.

Duminy, of course, is generally considered a “five-overs factor” with his tidy enough part-time off-spin in ODIs and if he is playing at the tournament he automatically becomes an attractive compromise of sorts, as second slow bowler in the team: the useful bit of security.

Would the Proteas be brave enough to play all of Tahir, Shamsi and Duminy in the same side at the World Cup? I wouldn’t be too quick to open my wallet in favour of betting on that likelihood.

If South Africa are, indeed, favourably inclined toward fielding both front-liners in the more pressing business further up the line, time is running short for them to establish it as something of a habit, a routine.

Several experts believe they missed a trick across the first two ODIs against Pakistan (loss in Port Elizabeth, win in Durban) by not letting both loose in those often spin-friendly landscapes.

The series now shifts to successive matches on the Highveld – Centurion on Friday, Johannesburg on Sunday – before wrapping up at Newlands; they all seem less likely places for a stiffened emphasis on spin.

Nevertheless, there has been strong urging from the SuperSport commentary box, especially, for the Proteas to try to strike more noticeably through spin – the argument being that wickets are the best method of curbing run-rates – in the middle portions of the enemy innings.

“Two quality, attacking spinners in your middle periods is a real asset,” reminded SA captaincy and batting legend Graeme Smith during the Kingsmead fixture, where Tahir was “benched” and Shamsi grabbed three scalps despite taking some late punishment (most bowlers did) from free-spirited tail-ender Hasan Ali.

Smith believes that the International Cricket Council-supervised surfaces at the World Cup will be responsive to spin, and clearly fancies Shamsi operating alongside the more established top choice, Tahir.

“Shamsi looks in good condition as well; he’s trimmed down a little bit,” the legend added.

Former Proteas left-arm spinner Robin Peterson, meanwhile, reminded: “India use both their wrist spinners (Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav) together to good effect … there’s no reason we can’t either.”

Even the more neutral Mark Nicholas appears to feel a twin onslaught from Tahir and Shamsi should become a more frequent occurrence in South Africa’s plans.

“They’ve both got that boyish enthusiasm … it rubs off, creates that bit of electricity.”

But will the Proteas respond to the welter of encouragement on the Tahir-Shamsi alliance when the World Cup comes around?

Hmm, an early forecast: perhaps don’t hold your breath …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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