Proteas may require ‘splinters’ man

Imran Tahir (Gallo)
Imran Tahir (Gallo)

Cape Town – It is unlikely that Aaron Phangiso was intended as an immediate front-line element of their arsenal for the ICC World Twenty20 … but that may now have to be revisited by South Africa in a bit of a hurry.

Fancied host nation India’s low-scoring humbling at the hands of New Zealand in the first match of the tournament-proper at Nagpur on Tuesday -- on a particularly gripping, turning track widely not considered ideal for this format of the game – will have sent a ripple or two through all camps at the event.

Whilst there is no certainty at all that conditions will be that challenging for crisp stroke-play at other venues, and you can usually expect a few contrasting belters on the Subcontinent, the fact that spinners played such a busy role in the opener will not have escaped other combatants’ notice.

It may simply have been a case of India falling into their own, very specialised intended trap at Nagpur -- something that may not now be repeated by them as they fight to find a way back in Group 2.

But the very fact that slow bowlers (either specialist or part-time) accounted for as many as 23 of 38.1 overs used in the contest – 12 by India, 11 by the Black Caps and in most cases with really telling effect – suggests that there will be other fixtures where spin plays a more influential role than may even have been assumed pre-tournament.

The Proteas, in recent times, have tended to pin their faith largely on a seam attack, plus the known wiles of ace leg-spinner Imran Tahir, often in the knowledge that many of the quicker men have the necessary skills and nous to be effective on sluggish surfaces.

They begin their campaign against England at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Friday (16:00 SA time) and may be just a little more wary now of fielding a bowling unit that contains only Tahir for front-line spin, with risky back-up from the fading force that is occasional off-spinner JP Duminy.

Left-handed batsman Duminy has not bowled a full four-over quota in any the last seven T20 internationals he has played in, and only bowled five largely expensive overs in total, since last shining as a bowler in the victorious mini-series in Bangladesh in mid-2015.

If faith in the diminutive Capetonian’s abilities on that front remains cautious at best, then perhaps Phangiso, only recently cleared to resume his career after being pulled up over concerns with his action, is going to see more action over the next couple of weeks than initially anticipated.

The 32-year-old from Garankuwa has only played nine T20 internationals thus far for the Proteas (though he sports a healthier 16 one-day international caps) and the last was in a defeat to New Zealand at Centurion in August last year.

You might say he is more renowned for being a notably peripheral figure, overwhelmingly confined to the “bench” whenever selected for the country at major ICC limited-overs tournaments of any kind.

Phangiso only sports one prior appearance during an ICC multi-national event – against Pakistan at Edgbaston in the Champions Trophy of 2013 – and there was a bit of a stink, understandably, over the fact that he did not get a gig at all during the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

That characteristic could be on the brink of changing for the better for him, simultaneously acting as a fillip, you would hope, for a player who has experienced several forms of personal turmoil in recent months.

Placing him (and Duminy) under some additional pressure, however, is the view this week of at least one independent critic, former England captain Michael Vaughan, that South Africa’s depth – or lack thereof – beyond Tahir in the spinning department could be their key weakness at the WT20 despite plentiful strengths in other areas.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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