CWC: Proteas face urgent answer to top order conundrum

Ottis Gibson (Ashley Vlotman)
Ottis Gibson (Ashley Vlotman)

Cape Town - With just 15 days remaining between now and South Africa's Cricket World Cup opener against England at The Oval, national coach Ottis Gibson concedes that he has not yet settled on a top order. 

It may have been a case of keeping his cards close to his chest, but there are certainly some big decisions ahead for Gibson and the Proteas before that May 30 fixture. 

Much of that has to do with Hashim Amla.

Battling for runs and form, Amla has spent the last two weeks with Proteas batting coach Dale Benkenstein, working on his technique in a desperate effort to find his touch ahead of what will be his ODI swansong.  

His inclusion in the World Cup squad was never certain, with many pundits calling for Reeza Hendricks instead, but in the end Amla's experience and pedigree was backed.

Question marks remain, however, and getting South Africa's most experienced batsman ready for the World Cup is now Benkenstein's number one priority.

A year ago, there was no question that Amla would open the batting alongside and Quinton de Kock at the World Cup, but that is no longer the case. 

Where Amla has been struggling, Aiden Markram has been flying. 

A superb One Day Cup campaign was followed by a hugely successful county stint with Hampshire where Markram made buckets of runs and, crucially, in English conditions.

It is difficult to see the Proteas overlooking Markram against England, but his inclusion comes with its own complexities. 

If South Africa go into that match with six specialist batsmen, one allrounder and four specialist bowlers, as is expected, then a tough selection awaits. 

If Amla is left out, then the top six will read: De Kock, Markram, Du Plessis, Van der Dussen, Duminy, Miller. 

If Amla plays, though, then including Markram becomes complicated. 

In that scenario, Rassie van der Dussen emerges as the man most likely to miss out, which would be harsh. 

He has only played 9 ODIs for his country, but Van der Dussen has done more than enough in that time - he averages 88.25 - to suggest that he is World Cup ready.

It is now beginning to look like when South Africa play their two warm-up matches against Sri lanka (May 24, Cardiff) and West Indies (May 26, Bristol) there will be players fighting for places. 

Those two fixtures could effectively serve as Amla's World Cup trial. 

"Those two games become very important for somebody like Hash, for instance, who hasn't played for a while," Gibson told media in Cape Town on Tuesday.

"We'll be taking those games very seriously." 

Ideally, the Proteas should know what their strongest top order is at this stage, but one positive is that in Markram they have a player flexible enough to give them several options.  

It is a long tournament, after all, so change is likely. 

"We have a number of guys who can bat in various positions," Gibson said.

"We haven't sat down and said where everybody is going to bat yet.

"Aiden is a top three player so I'm sure if he plays he will play there. He can bat further down, too, and it's good to have somebody dynamic like that."

"If Hash opens the batting we can play him in the middle order. It gives us a lot of options going forward."

Despite his recent returns, Markram still averages just 29.58 from his 18 ODIs while Amla averages 49.74

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ... 

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