Wanted: A new wicketkeeper

2012-09-08 00:00

THE Proteas’ one-day team has several similarities to the current Springbok rugby team. Both have too many players who may not be capable of producing match-winning performances at the highest level. The best players have been missing either through injury, as is the case of the Springboks, or through choice in the case of the Proteas.

Consequently, both teams look short of sufficient world-class players necessary to produce a world cup-winning squad in three years’ time. One of the differences is that the cricket team does not have to overcome the disadvantage of being markedly inferior to the best team in the world. Cricket does not have an equivalent of the All Blacks, a team that is without a serious rival among its peers.

A problem for Gary Kirsten, unlike Heineke Meyer, is that his pool of potential stars outside the national squad is small, to the point of virtual non-existence. There are few, if any cricketers, who suggest they may be better than those who struggled in England. The dismal performance earlier in the year of the “second eleven” in Zimbabwe confirmed what has been apparent for some time: the structure of provincial cricket is not suited to delivering a steady stream of talented and technically sound cricketers to the national squad.

The contrast with England in this regard was most noticeable. Putting aside the fact that half the England players that came into their one-day side learnt their cricket in South Africa, England’s recruits from outside their Test team performed markedly better than their Protea counterparts.

It is arguable that the freshness and skills of Morgan, Tredwell, Kieswetter and Dernbach made the difference between the teams in the two games South Africa lost. Each of them had at least one telling performance in England’s victories, whereas South Africa’s newcomers not only struggled to make an impact in this series, but look unlikely to do better in the future.

Dean Elgar is a classic example of the sort of bits-and-pieces cricketer who used to fill up a decade of unsuccessful England one-day teams. He is a crabby-looking batsman without the range of strokes or defence necessary to be successful against the best bowlers in the world. His bowling is also awkward and lacks the variations that might trouble good batsmen. He has done well for Free State over the years, but I am afraid the Peter Principle has caught up with him.

Faf du Plessis was a big disappointment on this tour. Admittedly, he had little proper batting before the one-day series, but the manner of his dismissals has been disturbing to his supporters. It is one thing to be dismissed early as it can happen to any batsmen, but the playing of ill-considered strokes almost as soon as he arrived at the crease suggested a temperament ill at ease with the pressures of international one-day cricket.

JP Duminy and AB De Villiers had no impact with the bat in the first three completed ODI matches, which means that four of the top six batsmen were non-starters in those matches.

One need look no further for the reasons a decent but not great England team was able to inflict a couple of heavy defeats on the Proteas after Amla’s match-winning 150 in the first completed game. It should also be noted that Amla and Smith, admittedly with a fair amount of luck, produced good starts in the middle three matches.

Heaven knows what would have happened had they failed to do so.

It cannot be said of AB de Villiers that he had a successful tour with the bat. In nine starts against England he reached at least 20 in every innings, but did not go on to make 50 or more until he did so quite brilliantly in the final game, when we could all see how much he can mean to his team.

His overall return with the bat was disappointing for someone whose ambition is to be the best batsman in the world. He was guilty of several soft dismissals and not until the last match did his batting look like that of a captain leading from the front.

I think that he has been asked to do too much and that it has showed in his batting. He is an adequate wicket-keeper but no more than that. I do not believe we can afford to compromise his batting by asking him to keep wicket in every form of the game. To do so in the ODIs, where he is also the captain, is stretching him too far.

The fielding sessions in the ODI game are brutally long at over three- and-a-half hours. This places heavy demands on the concentration of both keeper and captain. When one man is both, something will give, and with AB it was his batting.

At times, AB looked a little lost as captain. To be fair, he is still new to the job, but he has too much on his shoulders. When Kirsten returns to South Africa, one of his priorities must be to find the country’s next wicket-keeper.

What worries me is that the number one Test ranking will be up for grabs in Australia and that, in order to balance the team, AB will be asked to keep wicket again. That would be a mistake.

Of the batsmen not now in England, who would be on Kirsten`s list as possible candidates for his team? Immediately, those in the current Test team like Petersen and Rudolph come to mind.

Both are experienced and versatile enough to bat anywhere in the order. Importantly, both are good enough to find the boundary with some regularity which was an ability conspicuously lacking in the middle order of the team in England.

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