“The World Cup, though, is some way away at the moment and this could change over the next few months. South Africa’s first step towards a de Villiers-less World Cup is a more assured one than what many expected”
Oh, the gaping wide hole!
A glance at South Africa’s ODI team announced for the tour of Sri Lanka leaves you with a frown on the face for the sheer fact that their biggest dose of adrenaline for the World Cup, AB de Villiers, isn’t in there. de Villiers’ retirement sure leaves South Africa with more problems than ever but they do not have time to sit and mourn and the latest ODI team is evidence of the fact that they are trying to get used to life without AB de Villiers.
Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Junior Dala, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi
South Africa A team for tri-series: Khaya Zondo (c), Temba Bavuma, Farhaan Behardien, Gihahn Cloete, Theunis de Bruyn, Robbie Frylinck, Beuran Hendricks, Sisanda Magala, Pieter Malan, Senuran Muthusamy, Dane Paterson, Rudi Second, Dwaine Pretorius, Tabraiz Shamsi, Malusi Siboto.
It is also quintessential to our analysis of South African selectors’ vision to discuss the South Africa A squad named for the tri-series in India involving India A and Australia A. Several of those A team players could find themselves in the reckoning in the main team between now and the World Cup, a period during which South Africa are scheduled to play 21 ODIs – 5 in Sri Lanka, 3 against Zimbabwe, 3 in Australia, 5 against Pakistan and five against Sri Lanka at home.
That is enough time to chop and change a bit here and there but going by the words of Linda Zondi, the convener of selectors, South Africa seem to have a specific plan and direction.
The most glaring aspect of the squad is the absence of Imran Tahir, their no.1 spinner in limited-overs cricket, on a tour of the sub-continent. But as Zondi explains, it is a part of South Africa’s World Cup preparation.
“We have taken the strategic decision to rest Imran Tahir so that we can get a clearer picture as to who our best second spinner is to back him up at the World Cup. Imran will be our first- choice spinner at the World Cup but, if we play him against Sri Lanka, it is unlikely that we will be able to play both Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj,” Zondi said. “By taking this route, we will be able to play the two of them together.”
While some might view this with suspect eyes, South Africa’s Vision 2019 goals, formulated some time back, has clearly mentioned they focus on the bigger goals rather than short-term ones. On most occasions, South Africa have hit World Cups after bossing through bilateral series’ but hasn’t had enough success at big tournaments. This is possibly why they decided to focus on the World Cup and forget the interim results.
“This is the first time that any conversation we have had as a selection panel or coach and captain is to see how we can look at more players.”, du Plessis had said some time back. “I have never been involved in a vision like that. The now is very important and we play series to win but there is a big focus on how we can get a lot of guys opportunity because a year and a half or two years from now, you want to make sure there’s a group of players that have had time in the middle and time in pressure situations so you don’t just hope your XI is fit all the time.”
The decision to include Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi and rest Tahir stems from this. Maharaj has had great success in red ball cricket and it is only fair he gets a chance to prove his white ball credentials. Shamsi, on the other hand, has been phenomenal in domestic limited-overs competitions and is a game-changing wrist spinner. With onus on wrist spinners ever increasing in this format, his chances of making it to the World Cup, despite the athletism concerns surrounding him, is really high.
Rest of the squad has a familiar look with Reeza Hendricks, Wiaan Mulder and Junior Dala being fairly new names. Dala is a hit the deck seamer with good movement of the surface and proved his credentials in the shortest format against India back home. Dala is an exciting find and could potently be a great asset to the side that already boasts of Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.
Mulder’s all-round ability had impressed Ottis Gibson, the head coach, long back and the youngster has been kept in and around the setup since then. He bowls a heavy ball and is more of a batting all-rounder than Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris (who isn’t on the flight owing to injury) and Dwaine Pretorius (in the A squad).
Mulder should pose heavy competition for Phehlukwayo, particularly since the latter hasn’t been too impressive with his primary skill, bowling. Pretorius once again fails to make the cut to the main team but is someone South Africa should ideally look into a lot in the next few months. He is more than handy with the bat and his subtle variations and stringent lines with the ball could be really handy in England.
Reeza Hendricks is an interesting name in this discussion. He is a decent enough batsman but his technique seems rather suspect for an International cricketer. He has had reasonable success in domestic cricket but it remains to be seen if he can handle quality bowling at this level. With better eligible names in the limited-overs circuit in domestic cricket, it is surprising (or is it given that he is coloured) that the lot has fallen on Hendricks.
The top 10 batsmen in domestic circuit for South Africa since 2014 have quite a few names the Proteas haven’t even turned to. Rudi Second, the wicket-keeper middle-order batsman tops this list with 2652 runs and an average of 47.4. Colin Ackermann (a Kolpak, hence cannot be picked) comes in next. Rassie van der Dussen, Theunis de Bruyn and Heino Kuhn (latest Kolpak who hit four hundreds in five games in the ongoing Royal London One day cup for Kent) are interesting names in this list.
Of this, only van der Dussen, de Bruyn and Second are reasonable picks but it is curious that the selectors haven’t turned to any of them. Even more strange is the fact that Second and Van der Dussen aren’t even part of the A team to India.
The World Cup, though, is some way away at the moment and this could change over the next few months. South Africa’s first step towards a de Villiers-less World Cup is a more assured one than what many expected. The fact that they still have their Vision 2019 in mind and focus intent on the bigger picture is the biggest positive from the team selected. They might lose in Sri Lanka, but South Africa won’t mind as long as they are better equipped to deal with situations at the World Cup.