Why ODI Proteas can only have THREE bowlers

2018-07-30 16:25
Ottis Gibson (Gallo)

Cape Town – Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi, Junior Dala, Tabraiz Shamsi, Imran Tahir … what are the common denominators?

Apart from all being potentially in the frame for South Africa’s squad at the 2019 World Cup in England, the whole group of them are deemed out-and-out bowlers.

In other words, any very fitful tail-end batting credentials they may offer really don’t come into the picture; they cannot, at least on the grounds of already recorded limited-overs international statistics, be branded all-rounders.

An additional player is extremely borderline: now-regular Test first-choice spinner Keshav Maharaj, only pretty recently drawn closer to the ODI plans, is a cavalier striker of the ball but not yet sporting even a fifty in the franchise one-day arena.

So the stark reality is that, at least for the foreseeable future, the Proteas are always likely to field a line-up in ODIs that has a vulnerable-looking tail.

That is in contrast to a side like currently top-ranked England, blessed with an array of bowlers who either are, or can claim to be a lot closer to, all-rounders.

Next year’s CWC hosts -- fresh off whitewashing Australia 5-0 and then beating India 2-1 even more recently -- can often show off, as low as No 10 in their order, such characters as explosive-hitting Liam Plunkett (batting average above 20 in both ODI and List A cricket) or Adil Rashid: top score for the country 69 against New Zealand at Edgbaston three years ago.

Yes, more often than not there will be just one (No 11) true batting bunny, if you like, in England’s one-day team, meaning strike power or at very least durability and technical competence at the crease almost all the way down.

That very fact must, you’d imagine, take quite a bit of pressure off their more top-tier batsmen. (Albeit more applicable in a Test context at present, it is sometimes joked that when England go five down, their batting is really about to begin.)

It is a luxury South Africa must desperately wish to have. For all their qualities at their more specialist chores, this is an era where the Proteas happen to possess several bowlers offering little with the blade historically against the toughest of international opponents.

Given that the front-line part of the batting line-up isn’t exactly all singing, all dancing in weight-of-scoring terms in recent times – and one AB de Villiers has extremely damagingly exited the fold – a major goal of the SA brains trust, you would hope, will be to do everything possible in CWC lead-up not to aggravate things by having too noticeably fluffy a tail.

To my mind, and even at this relatively long-range point from the major jamboree, it seems increasingly clear that the Proteas cannot afford, then, to field (at any one time) more than three of the genuine “bowler only” candidates I have listed above for their World Cup party.

In other words, perish any thought at all that they might consider, just for example, fielding an attack – thus hazardously, naively side-stepping more versatile customers -- comprising Messrs Rabada, Steyn and Ngidi as the pace arsenal and Shamsi plus Maharaj or Tahir as a two-pronged spin component.

That, in short, would be a batting nightmare waiting to happen, particularly if there was a wobble higher up the order.

Especially with a sense of fluidity currently even to certain berths in the top six, South Africa going three or four wickets down inside the 25-over mark – whether in pursuit of or in setting a target –  all too often gives plenty of their supporters and probably a few on their balcony the heebee-jeebees.

That was the case again on Sunday, game one of the five-match series in Sri Lanka, despite the ultimately comfortable victory in Dambulla because JP Duminy finished things off with such welcome vigour and calmness.

At 129 for four in the 24th over, in pursuit of a modest 194, there was a case for saying the ‘Lankans were still enormously in the game, such was the structural frailty of the South African bottom end.

Put it this way: I wouldn’t put any money on the Proteas winning a pressure-cooker, World Cup knockout match with a “seven to eleven” made up – as was the case on Sunday – of young, currently only two-cap Wiaan Mulder, Andile Phehlukwayo, Rabada, Shamsi and Ngidi.

They simply have to find ways of bolstering their batting depth, and it may have to come with some sacrifice, frankly, in bowling clout.

So as much as there could be an increasing logjam and stiffening competitiveness between the out-and-out bowlers for a maximum of three available berths, the race will be on, too, among a battery of “bowlers who bat” for important roles in the area around Nos 7 and 8 in the line-up.

Not all of them are in the mix right now, for varying reasons including injury, but into that category will fall men like Phehlukwayo, Mulder, Chris Morris, Dwaine Pretorius and possibly still that great enigma (who only turned 29 on Monday) Wayne Parnell …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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