CWC Proteas: Starting XI uncertainty cause for concern

Aiden Markram (Gallo)
Aiden Markram (Gallo)

Cape Town - For most sides, preparations for the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England and Wales are all but over. 

There are just eight days remaining before the showpiece gets underway at The Oval on May 30 when hosts England welcome South Africa, and the squads have spent this week arriving in England and acclimatising to training and playing conditions before their respective campaigns get underway. 

Between this Friday and Tuesday next week, the 10 competing nations will play two warm-up matches each in one final effort to ready themselves for a dip at cricket's most coveted prize. 

This, in theory, does not offer much more than an opportunity to develop a feel for conditions. 

The warm-ups serve as somewhat of a neutraliser; a way of bringing the sides back down to the same level before the tournament starts. 

Coaches might opt to give their fringe players a run, while there is also a chance for those short on game time to get some time out in the middle. 

The worry in South Africa's case, however, is that their two warm-up matches are effectively serving as trials for the May 30 opener at The Oval. 

Hashim Amla, in particular, must use the warm-ups to convince the coach and captain that he is back to his best and ready to lead the charge from the top of the order. 

It is a far from ideal situation and Amla finds himself under pressure before the World Cup has even begun. 

South Africa take on Sri Lanka in Cardiff on Friday and then the West Indies in Bristol on Sunday.

"In terms of team selection, that's a call we'll make when we get to that first game," Du Plessis told media ahead of his side's departure to England. 

"Generally, you want to pick the guys that are in form. If we believe that Hash is the guy in the best form for the first game, then he will be picked.

"Hopefully Hash can go into those two warm-up games and go 'bang, bang' and score two hundreds in a row and then we can smile from there."

If Amla does score runs in those warm-up matches, then the in-form Aiden Markram could find himself left out on May 30. 

Given the fact that Markram has just come off a hugely successful one-month English county stint with Hampshire, one would think that his inclusion in the starting XI for The Oval would be a no-brainer. 

It isn't.

The other option sees Amla and Markram both play in a move that would see Markram bat at No 4 and Rassie van der Dussen left out.

That is difficult to picture, though, given that Van der Dussen was one of the success stories of the South African cricket summer after simply barging his way into the World Cup squad with an average of 88.25 from his 9 ODIs. 

Markram might open, he might bat in the middle order or he might not play at all. All three of those scenarios are equally possible at this stage, and that just doesn't sit well this close to game day. 

It is a long tournament and picking players on form will play a role as things progress, so South Africa's flexibility may be viewed as a strength on one hand, but there is also a quiet confidence that comes with knowing what your best side is. 

Right now, that doesn't seem to be the case. 

Outside of the top order, South Africa must also settle on a No 7 batsman and specialist allrounder. 

Andile Phehlukwayo seems to have the inside track in that fight, but his batting in such a crucial slot remains a concern. Dwaine Pretorius is the one alternative, while Chris Morris' late inclusion in the squad gives the Proteas a further option there. 

The other major selection issue for the Proteas is out of their hands, but no less concerning. 

It comes in the form of Dale Steyn, who is understood to be in a race against time to be fully fit for The Oval as he continues his recovery from a shoulder injury. 

Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi form a pace trio that has been billed as South Africa's major strength at the tournament, so Steyn missing out from the very beginning would not be a great way for the Proteas World Cup campaign to commence. 

If Steyn is ruled out, then South Africa might consider going in with an extra spinner in Tabraiz Shamsi, though including Morris as a second allrounder is likely to make more sense. 

There are always options, but the concern at this stage is that in Amla and Steyn, the Proteas find themselves with question marks hovering over two of their biggest assets.

One must prove he is in form, and the other must prove he is fit, and there isn't much time left to do either.  

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ...

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