CWC: Seam depth woes for SA?

Kyle Abbott (Gallo Images)
Kyle Abbott (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The Proteas will later this week welcome back with particularly open arms their “big three” fast bowlers Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.

This trio will remain deliberately dormant in the dead-rubber third Twenty20 international against West Indies at Kingsmead on Wednesday, where South Africa seek not only to avoid a 3-0 T20 clean sweep of defeats to West Indies but also end a run of four losses in the shortest format on the trot if you throw in two in Australia recently.

Yet on Friday - also in Durban - some altogether more relevant business begins with the first one-day international against the same foes, ideal preparation for the World Cup from mid-February.

Frankly, there is no special cause for alarm about the Proteas’ current T20 mini-plight: West Indies are at their best in the most abbreviated of the three arenas and many wise observers had them down as favourites all along to win this particular series against an experimental SA combination.

Of course salvaging some pride on Wednesday evening would be welcome, considering the Chris Gayle-inspired bruising the home side have taken (especially apparent on the bowling front) in successive clashes at Newlands and the Wanderers.

But if the public in KwaZulu-Natal were given the option of choosing victory in one of the two Kingsmead fixtures in the space of three days, hopefully they would see sense and still implore it to be the later, 50-overs affair.

Sunday’s staggeringly high-scoring Bullring thriller, which broke all sorts of records, provided precisely what T20 is earmarked to: great entertainment for a carnival-like crowd but no major, tremulous activity as far as bragging rights are concerned in the broader context of world cricket.

Remember that there are loads of respected people worldwide who insist T20 should be a franchise-only game, leaving Tests and ODIs more space to bask in the limelight internationally and the best cricketers less vulnerable to exhaustion and injury.

Plus if another ICC World Twenty20 tournament were held in the next few weeks - rather than as scheduled next in fairly distant March 2016 in India - the Proteas would beef up their current resources by at least half, infusing such keynote surnames as De Villiers, De Kock, Duminy, Steyn, Morkel and others.

Disregard what some deluded souls are baying on social media in the wake of the nail-biting Wanderers reverse: the SA brains trust have done exactly the right thing by giving a handful of senior personnel a break and returning them to action for the five-match ODI series.

But it also doesn’t mean that we can’t make some CWC-related observations from what has gone down in the T20 combat thus far ... and the Proteas suddenly look a little less than formidable when it comes to their back-up pace/seam arsenal.

There is every chance that their respected Test-staple trio of fast bowlers will make up the front-line attack in their ODI plans first against West Indies and then into the World Cup.

But you also need back-up of a suitable quality and in this regard there are just a few clouds gathering around Abbott and Wayne Parnell, the next two cabs off the seam rank in the 15-man CWC party if you disregard the part-time medium-pace claims of Farhaan Behardien for a minute.

The player from the Dolphins has a decent domestic reputation for his discipline, energy and yorker competence at the death phase of opponents’ innings, but he has been guilty of fluffing his lines a bit recently in limited-overs duty for the national cause.

Poor Abbott has taken unusual stick in the T20 series so far, going for 98 runs in eight overs split between Cape Town and Johannesburg, with Sunday especially galling for him as he returned the most expensive completed analysis ever (4-0-68-1) in the crazy slugfest.

England’s James Anderson and the now-retired Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka, both of whom had previously travelled for 64, will be relieved to have been “deposed” from an unwanted throne.

Abbott’s pace is not a special attribute, even if it is lively enough at times, so if he is missing his lengths on good, true batting tracks it can make him a bit vulnerable to attack by quality stroke-players.

Whether such a pasting has a damaging mental spill-over onto Abbott’s 50-overs game remains to be seen over the next few weeks, although he seems sturdy of character and will hopefully take the optimistic view that the only way is back up for him.

As for the unpredictable Parnell, the left-armer was one of the casualties of Gayle Blitz No 1 at Newlands and not too surprisingly omitted for the Bullring follow-up where the Proteas attack nevertheless then leaked comfortably the most successful chase in T20 international history.

He has already been considered by some a fortunate member of the World Cup plans, including the steadfastly pro-Ryan McLaren lobby, and there is no reason to be especially upbeat about Parnell’s chances of excelling if called to duty in vital Australasian matches shortly - he has lost much of that magical early-career ability he had to “bend” the ball prodigiously at pace.

If there was one ray of light on the seam-battery front on Sunday, it was all-rounder David Wiese, thrust into the rare role of first-change, showing encouraging ticker by bouncing back from a two-over initial clobbering (27 runs) to concede only a further 16 in his next two and give the Proteas a temporary sniff with three wickets as well.

But Wiese, of course, is not on the World Cup plane ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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