Published on July 14th, 2017 | by Rohit Sankar0
Can the Proteas find their groove with the cherry in the absence of Rabada?
He is the third highest wicket-taker in Test cricket since the beginning of 2016 and the highest when filtered out to consider only fast bowlers. We are talking about South Africa’s high profile seam bowler, Kagiso Rabada. With 75 wickets in 15 Test matches at a strike rate of 38.5, the best in the World during this time period, Rabada has set International cricket on fire with his blazing eyes and fiery pace.
To put things into perspective, analyse Rangana Herath during this same time frame. The veteran Lankan spinner played majority of his games at home and has 76 wickets in 13 Tests at a strike rate of 44.3. He has 6 five-wicket hauls and two ten-wicket hauls during this period as opposed to Rabada who has 5 five-wicket hauls and two ten-wicket hauls. The stats are eerily similar except for the strike rate which is ages apart. Rabada stands out in this regard. In fact, he is the only fast bowler in the top five wicket-takers’ list since 2016.
In fact, among bowlers who have at least 10 wickets from the beginning of 2016, Rabada is the only one to boast of a strike rate less than 40. This in itself is testimony to how important a cog he is in the South African Test wheel.
At Lord’s he got carried away by passion and involvement resulting in a few explicative bursting out of his mouth after dismissing Ben Stokes. It may not have been directed at the all-rounder but the stump microphone sure picked up a huge chunk of it resulting in South Africa losing their strike bowler for the second Test.
The visitors have had enough setbacks since arriving in England and Rabada’s suspension was one they could do without. But what’s done is done and Faf du Plessis will have to make do without his premier strike bowler at Trent Bridge. He cannot complain though, with South Africa 1-0 down in the series and another loss effectively putting off their winning chances.
South Africa have announced that Duanne Olivier would replace Rabada in the line-up. But how will they cope without the young seamer? How will du Plessis plot his attack on the English batsman?
Much of South Africa’s success at Trent Bridge, a venue tailor-made for fast bowlers, would depend on how their bowlers find their rhythm against a power-packed England batting line-up.
Morne Morkel, aside from his no-ball issues, was brilliant for the Proteas, especially in the second innings where his spell triggered a collapse. But the attack came way too late. Morkel has vowed to put aside his no-ball issues, which have denied him 13 wickets in his Test career thus far.
“I’m a bowler who needs a bit of rhythm to feel comfortable. I need a bit of time to feel comfortable at the crease. Unfortunately, I bowled a no-ball at a crucial stage (Morkel dismissed Ben Stokes on 44) and you can’t give extra lives to players like Joe Root and Stokes. I think it was a rush of blood to the head. I wanted to create something with the softer, older ball and I over-stepped”, Morkel had revealed in a chat with IOL News before the second Test.
In Rabada’s absence, the onus will be on Morkel to deliver. He would be encouraged by the fact that England pace bowler, Stuart Broad, who is pretty similar in approach and style to Morkel, has had considerable success at the venue. Broad had wrecked Australia in the Ashes last time around with a spell of 8/15 at Trent Bridge.
While Morkel assumes the role of leader of the pack, Philander will once again be tasked with getting the early breakthroughs. South Africa know that Trent Bridge would offer Philander his dream conditions and they need him to strike and strike big. They let England off the hook at Lord’s after having them in trouble in the first innings. A repeat of that had to be prevented this time around and Philander would be integral to those plans.
The experienced duo would open the attack and Duanne Olivier will be expected to don the first change seamer role. Olivier showed glimpses of his unmistakable talent during the New Zealand tour and is a hit-the-deck bowler who can trouble England batsmen with his disconcerting bounce and nippy pace. He is a kind of an unknown and if Faf du Plessis manages to use him wisely, he might just prove to be the difference between the two sides.
South Africa’s biggest conundrum before the Test would be to choose between Theunis de Bruyn, Keshav Maharaj and Chris Morris. Only two of these three can play and with Rabada out and Duminy dropped South Africa would wonder if they are a bowler short unless they play five frontline seamers.
They have stuck to the seven-four strategy in Tests for long but that is only because they had four real strike bowlers in the past with Duminy as a fifth option as and when required. With no Rabada and Duminy, ignoring Morris or Maharaj for de Bruyn could mean that they have no one to turn to if one of their big bowlers suffer an injury like Philander did at Lord’s.
This in itself could prompt the Proteas to play both Morris and Maharaj. The left-arm spinner was impressive at Lord’s in the second innings but conditions were more favourable for him. In the first innings, England had taken the attack to him and with Trent Bridge promising to be a difficult track for spinners, Maharaj’s place could be taken by Morris.
That said, du Plessis has openly expressed his desire to have slower options in Test XI before and with Maharaj more than reliable in recent months, he could retain his place.
It would be harsh to drop de Bruyn after his decent outing at Lord’s but the inclusion of Morris provides South Africa with an all-round option and an X-factor player, something they missed sorely at Lord’s. It is definitely tempting to switch to a six-five team at Trent Bridge and given that they have a dynamic skipper at the helm, the move could well be on.