Cape Town – He ceased several months ago to be the batting
coach, but Neil McKenzie remains fairly close to the Proteas camp.
So it was educative hearing the stalwart former middle-order
and then late-career opening batsman in Test matches for South Africa say –
with some conviction, too - on television earlier this week that the national
team still ideally want to reshape their Test XI to include an all-rounder in
the fluid area roughly between No 7 and 8.
McKenzie said on SuperSport’s chat show Inside Edge that the current four-bowler policy in the team will
“not be sustainable” down the line.
Although Dale Benkenstein has taken official charge of the
batting department since Ottis Gibson’s installation as head coach, McKenzie
still did some work with the SA batsmen during a summer which included those
stirring Test series victories over both India and Australia.
He has been assisting occasionally with what has been
described as the Proteas’ “next tier” of stroke-players.
As a result, he naturally retains some insight into the
plans and strategies of the Gibson panel, and seemed to imply on the programme
that a versatile customer being installed to the middle-order is a firm
collective desire … possibly as soon as the next Test series, away to Sri Lanka
McKenzie argued that the justification for an all-rounder –
whether one weighted more heavily in batting or bowling by reputation – would
include concern over the workload of prize strike-bowling asset Kagiso Rabada.
Clearly, there is a conscious determination for the
magnificent athlete and player-of-the-series against Australia not to be turned
into some kind of reduced-pace trundler over time, due to the hazards
associated with a mounting, heavy burden on the body.
Further, McKenzie argued, the Proteas will wish to squeeze
every bit of further Test activity they can out of that still lethal
pressure-applier Vernon Philander, now nearly 33 and prone to niggles or more
He only confirmed, with that irresistible final-morning
“six-for” against the Aussies at the Wanderers, his enduring value to the
Fielding Philander amongst a five-man attack, rather than
four, would only help keep him fresh and able to provide more economical but
also more intense spells.
Also to consider if South Africa do, questionably, stick to
just three pacemen, is that Morne Morkel, another durable character able to
retain high speed and aggression levels, has now stepped down from
international cricket after a near-sublime closing stretch for the Proteas.
Young Lungi Ngidi is one the fast bowlers hugely tipped to
come much more strongly into his own in Test whites henceforth, but a few wise
souls also feel that the seriously bright prospect needs further conditioning
and stamina to be able to become a true, routine star.
It is just another reason why a fifth bowler, spreading the
load and also a character able to contribute reasonably meaningfully with the
blade, makes sense.
For that reason, I would expect Wiaan Mulder and Chris
Morris, especially, to stay part of the extended Test squad mix over the next
few months at very least.
As “extras” in the present squad, they offer handily
different hallmarks and profiles.
Mulder is a fledgling 20 – it is always good to have such a
rookie element ready and waiting to be unleashed – and more inclined toward
batting solidity, if you like, than the more swashbuckling Morris is.
The Lions man currently sports a solitary ODI appearance
against minnows Bangladesh, but Gibson did hint at times during the
just-completed home Test programme that he was extremely close to a five-day
Morris, by contrast, is as many as 10 years his senior, an
experienced customer across the three formats (55 Proteas caps spread between
them) and probably more penetrative with the ball, even if he can frustratingly
“mislay” his line and length at times.
Any signs that he is adding a dollop of additional
consistency to his bowling (he can boast real hostility and speed on a good
day) after tweaking his action during 2017/18, and he will press strongly for
five-day recall, too.
It will be a surprise if both don’t earn plane tickets to
the Test portion, at very least, of the Sri Lankan tour …
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing