Feeble Proteas: Selection quandary simply worsens

Mark Boucher (Gallo)
Mark Boucher (Gallo)

Cape Town - Stuffed out of sight ... for a second time in three home Twenty20 internationals, ensuring a second consecutive 2-1 series reverse in the format by the Proteas as part of the bleak bargain.

Just as damningly, a quite possibly unprecedented failure, by late February, to get off the mark in the win column yet from four completed, various-format series on own soil in the 2019/20 summer, even if there was a weather-affected 1-1 outcome with England in one-day international combat.

No wonder there were such acutely sombre, expressionless, zipped-mouthed looks from past SA playing legends and now key coaching personnel, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis, when the television cameras focussed lingeringly on the close friends at field side after completion of Wednesday’s decisive Newlands embarrassment against Australia.

The Proteas were edged out by another of their oldest and toughest rivals, England, in a humdinger of a T20 series immediately ahead of this one, sparking warranted - certainly at the time - optimism that October’s hosts of the next ICC T20 World Cup would be given just as good a run for their money a few days later.

I was among those believing that the national side may just have been emerging painstakingly but determinedly from a multi-pronged - the problems hardly confined to the playing arena alone - nadir in recent months.

But don’t go walking in the aisles just yet; the plane’s clearly still being bumped around and the “fasten seat belt” sign hasn’t been switched off.

The gutsiness of the Proteas’ narrow, middle-game triumph over Aaron Finch’s outfit in Port Elizabeth – from a staring-down-the-barrel situation, mind you - could not be masked, sadly, by the record roastings on either side of that fixture: 107 runs in Johannesburg and now 97 runs in the Mother City.

In T20 cricket, those margins look pretty hideous; there is just no way you can even paper over that.

South Africa also posted, over the course of those two traumatic tussles, sub-100 totals each time in a chase, only confirming the lingering, swelling suspicion that international batting standards by the country are at their lowest point in decades ... and that the brains trust constantly, inexplicably aggravate the situation by putting out white-ball teams with desperately lengthy tails.

It is all too easy to venture that the “frontline batting must do its job” but when it so palpably, routinely isn’t firing as a collective, it should be a fait accompli that you bolster as purposefully as possible the depth to the order by favouring bowlers who offer some sort of credentials with the willow.

South Africa’s slide from 87 for five to 96 all out at Newlands told you everything you needed to know (if you remarkably didn’t already) about the flimsiness of the bottom end.

The Proteas have a fifth and final chance to land a home-season trophy from Saturday onward, when the first of three ODIs against the well-oiled Australians is played at Paarl (13:00), but you’d be brave to handsomely tip Quinton de Kock and his again rather chopped-and-changed crew to make it happen.

On that note, Wednesday’s lame performance only underlined that the SA selectors really seem to be moving further away from, instead of increasingly closer to, knowing what their best troops are for that T20 World Cup eight months up the road.

Several particularly major vulnerabilities currently exist, with the broader batting conundrum heightened by the clear jitters that take hold whenever spinners, especially those with at least some semblance of mystery qualities, enter the attack against them.

It happened again at Newlands, where Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa, tormentors par excellence at the Bullring, this time registered a combined analysis of 5/26 from seven overs between them to cause huge holes to the Proteas’ hull.

From a bowling perspective, unfortunately, the Proteas seem to take a step backward for every one that they do forward, just one snag being that they arguably undervalue spin in their own ranks: again, their lone option in that area (and an effective one) on Wednesday was Tabraiz Shamsi.

Repeating a series-long phenomenon, in addition, their overall bowling competency was at its best in the second half, roughly, of the Aussie knock, whereas the powerplay phase of the first six overs has been pretty wretched throughout the last few days of activity against the tourists.

Wednesday’s was the most inglorious: concession of 75 runs in the period (rate 12.5 to the over) to the explosive Finch-Warner firm.

At St George’s Park it had been 54, and at the Wanderers 70.

All of these drawbacks lead back to a painful realisation: among the 16-strong squad deployed during this series, desperately few look true shoe-ins right now for a World Cup.

An economical personal suggestion, purely based on recent showings, would be the following: De Kock, Shamsi, Temba Bavuma, Lungi Ngidi and Rassie van der Dussen.

Whether you feel that list should be a little longer (or shorter, even), that’s got to be a worry … hasn’t it?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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