Proteas focus on lower order

2012-12-14 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The Proteas appear to be making a more conscious effort to enhance their lower-order batting strike power in Twenty20 cricket.

That much can be deduced from examining a much-altered squad, announced yesterday, for the three-match T20 home series against New Zealand shortly.

South Africa have almost always featured a strong specialist batting line-up in this format and in the more extended form of one-day competition, but tended to rather peter out in recent times as far as momentum down the order is concerned.

Of course, there are plenty of occasions when players lower in the order aren’t required to any significant extent anyway in the T20 arena, but just as often they do have a key role to play in keeping the scoring rate rosy right to the finish.

Here the Proteas have laboured fatally at times in recent years, since potential “fireworks” players like Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock, Johan van der Wath and even Nicky Boje have no longer been available in limited-overs batting slots from No. 7 downwards.

It is why the presence in the latest T20 squad of names like David Miller and Chris Morris can be considered significant.

All-rounder Albie Morkel, who has too often struggled to reproduce his stellar Indian Premier League long-handle form for his country, has ostensibly not been considered for the Black Caps challenge because of injury, but the 31-year-old had been producing fairly patchy performances anyway for the Titans in the 50-over One-day Cup competition and may battle to regain his place.

Miller is different to Morkel, because although he is every bit as accomplished as a clean, big-distance striker of the ball, he does not offer the bowling option Morkel does.

But if the Proteas can somehow rebalance their side to still have enough depth and variety to their bowling arsenal, the KwaZulu-Natal player may have a chance to re-establish his credentials as an X-factor batsman down the order.

The 23-year-old hasn’t exactly set the world alight with the willow in the One-day Cup, it must be said, but in the last English county season he was a leading light for Yorkshire in the T20 environment (they want him back in 2013) and the national selectors clearly hope he can find that mojo in a green and gold shirt.

If South Africa manage to find places for both Morris and Miller against New Zealand, they certainly ought to be fielding teams with appropriate “oomph” in the lower-order positions.

Lions favourite Morris, the 25-year-old son of lanky former Northern Transvaal left-arm spinner Willie, is more renowned as a slippery, skilful pace bowler of promise, but also goes about his batting duties with gusto.

Having suitable depth to the T20 batting order may be important for the Proteas, because of the sensible decision to rest their rock-like top-order figures in all formats, Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla, from this particular series; it does leave the side much lighter on battle-hardened experience.

The selectors have sent out a healthy signal that players both young and older can earn first-time recognition through inspired or consistent displays for their franchises — good examples of this are the 19-year-old left-handed batting and wicketkeeping phenomenon Quinton de Kock and Stellenbosch-born journeyman batsman Henry Davids.

Davids turns 33 in January, but his ability to score at a rollicking rate when the mood grabs him in the T20 format is well documented.

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