CWC 2019: Indecisive Proteas must settle on top order

JP Duminy (AP)
JP Duminy (AP)

Southampton - While almost all of South Africa's emphasis heading into the 2019 Cricket World Cup was on their bowling stocks, it is the batting that has been the biggest cause for concern over the last four winless matches. 

Quinton de Kock's 68 in the tournament opener against England back on May 30 remains the Proteas' highest score in the competition, and up until now none of the top order have stepped up to play a match-winning innings. 

Equally as significant is the fact that there has been no stability, with the Proteas having fielded a different top six in all of their four matches so far. 

The chopping and changing was not always of their own making, and Hashim Amla's blow to the head against England saw him ruled out of the second fixture against Bangladesh.

Even so, the Proteas have never looked 100% sold on what their best top order is. 

Before the tournament began, there was uncertainty surrounding the openers and had an out-of-sorts Amla not carded back-to-back 50s in the two warm-ups against Sri Lanka and the West Indies, he may have been left out of the England fixture. 

As it turns out, the Proteas sprung a huge surprise by leaving David Miller out against England, opting for Aiden Markram instead. 

Amla's injury for the second fixture against Bangladesh meant that Miller was picked while Markram was elevated to the top of the order, but when Amla returned for the clash against India, Miller was retained and Markram was left out. 

Then, on Monday, the decision was taken to drop the under-performing JP Duminy

South Africa were 29/2 when the match was washed out after just 7.3 overs, but they were well on their way to another disappointing batting display. 

After four matches De Kock, Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen are the only top-order batsmen to have played every game. 

Ahead of the tournament, Du Plessis had said that there would be flexibility in team selection throughout the competition based on opposition and conditions. 

Markram, for example, was dropped for India because of his perceived troubles against spin. 

The time has surely come now, though, for the selectors to make a final decision on what their best batting line-up is and give the top order some continuity for the rest of the campaign. 

The batsmen appear short on confidence, and Du Plessis feels like the are just "one century away" from turning this around. 

Surely the chances of that match-winning innings are higher if the batters are playing without the fear of being dropped for the next match hovering over them. 

Sitting out for the rest of the tournament would be tough for Duminy, who will retire from ODI cricket and the end of the World Cup, but there can be no room for sentiment now. 

Duminy missed a large chunk of cricket in the build-up to the World Cup as he recovered from a shoulder injury, and he has not looked anywhere near his best in the three knocks he has played in England so far. 

It has arrived at the stage where it is hard to justify Duminy's inclusion if it keeps players like Markram and Miller, who have both looked in good touch at different stages, out of the team. 

The other obvious worry is Amla, who has struggled against raw pace and look that split-second late on his shots, but there is nothing the Proteas can do about their squad now. 

If they could go back, they might go to England without one of Amla or Duminy, favouring Reeza Hendricks instead. 

It is pointless going down that road.

All the Proteas can do is work with what they have, even if what they have is a couple of players who have hung on to international cricket for a tournament too long. 

The chances of South Africa reaching the semi-finals are slim, but they must still field the players who will give them the best shot of making that happen. 

They need to identify who their six best bets with the bat are, and back those players from now until the end of the tournament. 

Give them the freedom to go out there and play. 

There is, after all, not much left to lose. 

@LloydBurnard is in England covering the 2019 Cricket World Cup for Sport24 ...   

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