Terriers who can boost our ODI team

Dean Elgar (Gallo Images)
Dean Elgar (Gallo Images)

London – Two pocket dynamos from the Test group – Temba Bavuma and Dean Elgar -- spring to mind as appealing, necessary injections to South Africa’s batting brigade in one-day internationals when that format resumes for them.

There are other thorny issues to grapple with as well before the Proteas return to the 50-overs arena in a three-match October home series against Bangladesh, a situation arising from their successive failures in England – first a 2-1 reverse to the home country, then chastening pre-knockout exit from the ICC Champions Trophy.

But with recent deficiencies at the crease top of mind to many observers, particularly in their pivotal thumping from India at The Oval on Sunday, how to strengthen and freshen the batting department will be among the main challenges for the brains trust ahead of the spring dates with the Bangladeshis – surprise semi-finalists at the Champs Trophy – at Kimberley, Paarl and East London respectively.

Despite patchy or, in one or two cases, nearer disastrous showings by certain staple batting figures in recent weeks, the proven nucleus of the department will clearly remain.

Into that category fall all of captain AB de Villiers, despite his mounting scrutiny in the leadership post, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and David Miller.

But middle-order men JP Duminy, a regular presence albeit an enduringly underwhelming one, and the slightly more peripheral squad presence Farhaan Behardien must be said to be skating on thin ice.

Indeed, many will contend that ice shattered, or should have, quite some time ago.

The Proteas badly need more runs and more stability from the berths that immediately precede the bowling all-rounder-laden lower order. It is there that any shake-up of resources seems the most pressing.

Apart from being one of several notably ageing member of the batting arsenal, which must be a concern with the 2019 World Cup (England and Wales) in mind, the 33-year-old Duminy is flat-lining at very best in ODIs.

He is a “balancer” in the team because of his secondary abilities as a part-time off-spinner and provision of a reasonably comforting sixth element to the attack when necessary, but even balancers need to actually produce statistically, and Duminy continues to fall too short in that respect.

He should be at an assured, serene prime after as many as 177 ODIs stretching back to mid-2004, but even his irksomely sporadic displays of genuine excellence have dried up in recent times.

Since scoring 73 against Australia at his home base of Newlands in October last year, Duminy has taken guard 14 more times in ODIs and only managed a top score of 38 not out.

In his defence to a degree, three of his last four innings have been unbeaten, including being last man standing in the relative rout for 191 against the Indians.

But hasn’t the stage been reached where, finally, Duminy and the bits-and-pieces Behardien (also 33) have become prime candidates for the chopping block as South Africa seek alternative, hopefully more productive characters?

One candidate from the especially youthful ranks, of course, is the 22-year-old former SA under-19 skipper Aiden Markram, already being spoken of as a possible answer to one of the Test opening berths in the looming series in England.

The right-hander wasn’t shabby at all in the last edition of the domestic One-Day Cup for the Titans, blasting respective scores of 183 and 161 over the course of an eye-opening fortnight, with the last-named effort registered in the final against the Warriors at the end of March.

Both came from his post at the front of the order, and that is an area where the Proteas are at least prodigiously served, for the most part, by Messrs Amla and De Kock, so any discussion around his selection would have to be based around likelihood for adaptation to a position lower in the SA order.

But if the selectors are to be seduced more by already-known qualities as fighters – and don’t we need those? – in broader international cricket, then a revisit to ODI honours for both Bavuma and Elgar, frankly, seems a very sound call.

The nuggety duo tend to respond positively when there is a whiff of cordite in the air, something evidenced from each at various different times in the Test format, and I would argue that those qualities are transferable to the top-tier limited-overs landscape.

Bavuma, 27, seems particularly well geared to a middle-order stationing, with his ability to nudge the ball around and his lightning pace between the wickets; he would give a hint of a “Jonty Rhodes” type of character being restored to the ODI plans.

Speaking of Rhodes, Bavuma is a nimble and effervescent presence in the field as well, a hallmark that the current Proteas need to restore more of -- for truth be told, they have been matched or even eclipsed by several other teams for mobility and polish as a fielding unit.

He has played one prior ODI and yes, you may mutter “only Ireland”, but he did everything that could have been expected of him and more on that occasion at Benoni last September as he calmly compiled 113 and helped De Kock amass 159 runs for the first-wicket stand.

But then there’s that other diminutive yet feisty fellow, Elgar: increasingly senior in the Test XI, he has been “trialled” a few times previously in ODIs without ever getting any significant chance to settle, something borne out by the fact that his five innings (top score 42 against England at The Oval) have seen him bat in four different positions.

Also able to offer a bit of serviceable, dart-it-in left-arm spin, the left-handed Elgar’s rich recent run in the county one-day competition for Somerset should act as an informative barometer in his favour.

Having just clicked over to his 30th birthday on Sunday -- the very day of the Proteas’ effective car smash against India -- he is probably one of those cricketers increasingly at ease with his own game and emboldened by the ever-accumulating wealth of knowledge in different climates.

With successive limited-overs scores for the Taunton-based side of (from most recent) 78, 96, 55, 131 not out and 68, it is increasingly unwise to pigeon-hole him as a Test and first-class sort of specialist only.

I’d say Elgar’s Midas Touch in compressed cricket is rather well-timed …

*Rob Houwing covered SA’s Champions Trophy campaign for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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