Why Proteas STILL seek that Test all-rounder

2018-04-05 13:03
Lungi Ngidi (Gallo)

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 in July?

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 pronounced injuries.

He only confirmed, with that irresistible final-morning “six-for” against the Aussies at the Wanderers, his enduring value to the cause.

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 call-up.

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


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