Time for change

2008-09-05 00:00

When you pick a one-day team with just five specialist batsmen, you are taking a gamble unless all five are world-class players with proven records of consistency. Few selectors would take that risk if the batsmen could not rely on the support of a couple of genuine all-rounders, plus a wicketkeeper-batsman. In one-day cricket, the pressure to score runs quickly increases the risks on batsmen, making it imperative that even the tailenders can play a positive role at the end of an innings.

The current South African one-day side has gone into its matches in England with five specialist batsmen, but not even the most blinkered supporter would label them world-class. Would you have gone into the field with the following five batsmen, knowing that those below them are walking wickets?

Herschelle Gibbs, who has been the only batsman who has looked comfortable against England’s pace attack, but has found consistency only in failure. Although he has scored his runs quickly and in some style, Gibbs will always be the unreliable, extravagantly gifted batsman who gives his wicket away too cheaply too often.

Hashim Amla, who is still learning the part of an opener in one-day cricket, has been the one batsman to come out of this series with his reputation enhanced. He must surely be an automatic choice for this team at number three when Smith returns.

Jacques Kallis, who arrived in England looking unfit, has had a dreadful tour. His career record speaks for itself, but right now he could not buy a counterfeit run from the bloke in the corner shop. One does not know whether his failures in the Indian Premier League have impacted on his confidence, but he looks a shuffling shadow of the man regarded as South Africa’s best batsman.

His lack of success has put his team under pressure in every match.

AB de Villiers has not risen to the challenge of batting at number four. He has given his wicket away in most of his innings in both forms of the game. His talent, like that of Gibbs, is undeniable, but he must learn the art of selling his wicket dearly. The evidence is that this will be a costly lesson.

JP Duminy was thought to be the one, but has fluffed his first chance in a major series. He has been out of his depth against some excellent pace bowling and his choice of shots has been poor.

It may be too soon to write him off, but I can think of several South African batsmen, not in the team, who would do a better job if given a chance.

Those are the men on whom the team has depended for runs! Below them, the capacity to make runs has been virtually non-existent. No wonder the Proteas have received the worst hiding since Kepler Wessels’s last team was clobbered six-zip in India. To be fair, the selectors could not have anticipated the injury to Smith and the collapse of Kallis, but they need to understand that this team needs to be restructured.

The game is up for Boucher, Ntini, André Nel and, unless he improves, Duminy. Morné Morkel cannot be picked in the one-day team until he has shown that he can bowl with greater consistency. Too much has been expected of the big man. The fact is that he is an apprentice, with much of his trade still to be acquired. He needs a lot of work on his action under the guidance of someone he can trust.

By my book, the selectors need to find five players to take the places of those who have failed in England — and I am not counting Kallis among those who must go. They need to realise is that they will not find five replacements in a hurry, but there are several experienced cricketers who recommend themselves.

For batsmen, I would look no further than Jacques Rudolph and Van Jaarsveld, both of whom have done well in England. Rudolph, being the younger man and a left-hander, would get my vote, but Van Jaarsveld would be a dependable batsman to have on the bench. For the time being, therefore, the top six in the one-day team could be — Graeme Smith, Gibbs, Amla, Kallis, Rudolph and the wicketkeeper, De Villiers. Of the bowlers, only Steyn would be guaranteed a place, although it must be said that he has not been impressive in England. Botha should retain his place, which leaves three places.

These places will not be filled quickly, but it is better that the search begins now rather than closer to the next World Cup. One of them ought to be a genuine all-rounder, which suggests either Albie Morkel or Ryan McLaren. Neither is in the Pollock class with bat or ball, but both have the capacity to improve.

The final place should be filled with two big men who can bowl at 145 km/h. Such bowlers do not grow on trees, as even the West Indians have discovered. Morné Morkel is an obvious candidate, but everyone including the man himself needs to understand that he is far from the finished product. Until he is ready, there are opportunities for two big strong lads with the capacity for hard work.

• Ray White is a former UCB president.

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