Peter Robinson

Don't rush Zondeki

2005-03-15 07:45

South Africa's Test squad for the tour of the West Indies contains few surprises. This, broadly speaking is good news.

The not-so-good news is that at one point on Friday afternoon South Africa seemed to have run out of fast bowlers.

Andre Nel, Charl Langeveldt and Jacques Kallis were all off the field receiving treatment and Monde Zondeki looked just about dead on his feet.

Elsewhere Shaun Pollock had his ankle up and it appeared to be the case that the only fit fast bowler around was Makhaya Ntini who, of course, wasn't playing in Centurion.

The official line is that the injuries are mostly no cause for concern and that the only player whose place on the plane to the Caribbean is in doubt is Langeveldt.

This may be so, but Graeme Smith didn't half look worried there for a while. You know things are starting to get tight when you have to turn to someone, AB de Villiers, who was keeping wicket in the Test side only a couple of months ago to bowl a few overs.

It's the nature of the business that fast bowlers suffer wear and tear. In the later stages of his career Mike Procter had to wear a knee brace to keep going.

The lanky Australian Bruce Reid finally gave up the game when his body virtually gave up on him. Richard Snell and Brett Schultz both bowed out of Test cricket well before their sell-by dates because of injury.

And yet, remarkably, in a career that spanned 15 years and included 156 first-class matches, Vince van der Bijl never missed a game through injury. Considering the size of the man, this is an amazing record.

A case in point

Van der Bijl's method was to go on diet as the end of winter approached, run a few laps around the Collegians Club field in Pietermaritzburg, have a few nets and gradually bowl himself to fitness in club cricket.

Modern biokineticists, fitness trainers and physios might sniff at this approach, but it worked for him.

At the same time, it has to be conceded that Van der Bijl did not have to endure that almost non-stop cycle of Test and one-day international cricket faced by modern fast bowlers.

England's tour of South Africa this summer was a case in point with five Tests and a one-day series crammed into a couple of months.

It was a ridiculous schedule and adds to the argument that the powers-that-be urgently need to reconsider what they are asking of the modern player.

South Africa, of course, then had the two Tests against Zimbabwe. Which brings us back to Zondeki.

With most of the seam attack in the dressing room, Zondeki had to bowl 21 overs on Friday afternoon and looked knackered at the end of it.

He bounced back on Sunday to take six Zimbabwean wickets, the man of the match award and book a trip to the West Indies.

Question mark

There should be no quibbling about his inclusion, even if he is likely to have to bowl against far stronger batting lineups the longer his career lasts.

The point here is not whether Zondeki is good enough to play Test cricket or whether he is ready for it. The question mark against him is his stamina.

As things stand, he appears to be in line behind Langeveldt and Nel, not necessarily in that order, for the third seamer's place.

And that's how it should be at the moment. There will be pressure on the selectors to play him during the West Indies tour and, quite possibly, complaints that he seems to have been taken along for the ride.

These should be ignored. Zondeki is good enough to play in the Test side if required, but he needs to know what it is like to bowl 20 or more overs a day on a regular basis.

By the time he's used to this, he will be ready to command a regular placed.

If he's pushed too quickly at this stage, though, and his future will be put at risk. And no one wants that.

Send your comments to Peter or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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