Making the correct selection calls crucial for Proteas

2013-06-06 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The Proteas would probably be among the first to say “don’t pay too much heed to warm-up matches” after their pre-ICC Champions Trophy humbling at the hands of Pakistan earlier this week.

But at the same time, their brains trust may well have made a mental note or two about events in the similar fixture between India and Australia at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff on Tuesday, just two days before the tournament begins, with South Africa tackling the Indians there in Group B today.

What coach Gary Kirsten will have picked up, as the Aussies were rolled for an ignominious 65 in reply to India’s 300-plus total, is the fact that two of the winning team’s fast bowlers, Umesh Yadav (5/18) and the beanpole Ishant Sharma (3/11), inflicted the overwhelming bulk of the damage.

While some reports have suggested the track may be on the slow side during the event, it reportedly had pretty good bounce and carry for the friendly meeting. That could sway the Proteas toward a desire to field at least four recognised seamers in their bowling armoury today — whether strike kingpin Dale Steyn is fit for selection or not.

If his side strain has not healed in time, which would be a big blow, South Africa might well still be making a wise call by putting out a pace attack of Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan McLaren and Rory Kleinveldt, with veteran Robin Peterson providing the left-arm spin variety and completing a five-strong cupboard of frontline bowling.

With the absence of legendary true all-rounder Jacques Kallis having a detrimental impact on the balance of the team, the Proteas have to chew on whether to load their bowling a bit at the expense of the batting, or take the considerable risk of fielding only three specialist seamers. That would mean relying on an alliance of part-timers like JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien and Faf du Plessis to fill the required fifth quota.

A gut feel is that this is playing with fire: the Indians and later opponents would be likely to rapidly target someone like the medium-pace (at best) Behardien, who can do a tidy suffocation job at franchise level on slow, gripping strips at times, but has precious little experience of bowling consistently in the big-time environment. Ideally, use of Behardien and the occasional spin fare of Duminy and Du Plessis is best reserved as a sixth option.

Under that template, and assuming Steyn isn’t quite ready for the key first match, positions seven to 11 should thus be occupied — in order — by McLaren, Peterson, Kleinveldt (who can use the long handle reasonably decently when the mood grabs him), Morkel and Tsotsobe.

South Africa then have to carefully select their very best personnel for prime batting slots one to six, especially given that they could have a reasonably fluffy tail: I would argue that captain AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Duminy and Du Plessis should be considered “must picks”, to be accompanied by two of Alviro Petersen, David Miller, Behardien and Colin Ingram.

None of this quartet can yet claim to be suitably established in the ODI side, and bring both different qualities and most suitable positions or strategic roles in the batting line-up.

World No. 1-ranked India have the advantage of useful reconnaissance of Sophia Gardens following that warm-up demolition job on the Aussies.

The Proteas have only previously completed one match in any of three international formats at the Welsh ground: a 2003 nine-wicket ODI triumph over Zimbabwe in the NatWest Series. None of the current squad took part then.

Subsequently, South Africa have had successive quickly abandoned ODIs against England at Sophia Gardens — in 2008 the rain arrived with the tourists 6/1, and in 2012 the elements intervened for the remainder of the clash with England 37 without loss.

Particularly with local knowledge so limited, the Proteas’ making the correct selection calls may well be critical today.

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