Sri Lanka in SA

Method behind Botha ‘snub’?

2012-01-23 10:06
Johan Botha (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing. Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town -- Johan Botha was the rather conspicuous South African sore thumb in the just-completed ODI series against Sri Lanka ... the only player among 16 involved in the squad at different stages of the assignment not to get a single game.


In a series won 3-2, and with the last two fixtures dead rubber affairs, experimentation in all sorts of respects was the name of the Proteas’ game, something that will probably have long-term benefits as coach Gary Kirsten and company apply ticks and crosses to players en route to knowing who best deserve regular spots in the match-day XI.

So against that backdrop it seemed to make even less sense that Botha was the lone victim of inactivity from start to finish.

Instead Robin Peterson effectively filled the role of first-choice spinner for all five fixtures, and fared reasonably: six series wickets at an average of just under 30 and economy just inside five runs to the over.

But he took some punishment in the second-last outing at Kimberley, the first of Sri Lanka’s two consolation victories, and the situation seemed opportune for Botha to get another chance to belatedly remind everyone of the qualities he, too, brings.

Instead he again sat out the action at the Wanderers, which had television commentators speculating why this was the case, especially as there had been no reports from the camp of the Warriors customer carrying a “niggle” or similar ailment.

The speculation died out a little as Peterson, to his credit, was bravely entrusted with the last over of the heroic Lankan run-chase by captain AB de Villiers and came thrillingly close to orchestrating a highly unlikely Proteas victory as he picked up two quick scalps before being belted for the decisive six to end the contest.

And there are at least some statistical reasons for preferring Peterson to Botha on occasions when the wise men consider it unnecessary to field both stalwarts because there is bits-and-pieces spin to call on from the likes of JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis.

That is because the former has a stronger wicket-taking habit in recent ODI times, having picked up two wickets or more in nine of his last 15 appearances for South Africa.

Botha, by contrast, has managed a two-wicket haul in only one of his own last 17 ODIs, although he has traditionally had the mild edge for economy – his career rate is 4.58 to Peterson’s 4.75.

Still, we were left to wonder whether Botha, a known cool customer boasting 77 ODI caps and at least as good a batsman and fielder, might have made a difference at the Bullring from a discipline point of view to a home attack which leaked 300 runs or more for the second time on the trot.

Especially as he is a retreaded seam bowler, the 29-year-old can be good at spearing in some deliveries fast, low and flat and is often useful as a choking factor for at least part of the “death” onslaught by the opposition in the last 10 overs or so.

Lack of form cannot really be ventured as an issue, either: in his last ODI game for South Africa Botha made a bigger fight of things than any other bowler (10-1-21-1) to try to prevent Australia chasing down a humble 223 to win the deciding ODI at Kingsmead earlier in the summer, something the visitors eventually did achieve in a 2-1 series win.

I am inclined to believe there has been more at stake than just a blatant preference for Peterson in this series: my suspicion is that Botha’s decision to jump at a short-term chance to represent the Adelaide Strikers for part of the lucrative Twenty20 Big Bash League in Australia, midway through our own season, at least partly influenced the game-time cold shoulder he got.

Certainly there had been some fears among local officialdom, as news broke that he had signed up, that he was setting some kind of dangerous precedent.

“It is a little bit concerning because it opens the door for other players to do the same,” South African Cricketers’ Association chief Tony Irish had said at the time.

There had been concerns also from national selection convenor Andrew Hudson, who was quoted as saying: “(Botha going to Adelaide) brings into the spotlight the structure of a national contract, which may have to have different terms in future.”

Was CSA simply quietly reminding Botha during the ODI series against Sri Lanka that preference will be given to players more routinely plying their trade on home soil?

Use it, don’t use it ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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