Cape Town – Their squad depth heavily compromised by injuries to core personnel at present, the tottering Proteas are testing their pretty modest reserve cupboard to the full.
Particularly on the batting front, the team to face currently rampant India in the third of six one-day internationals at Newlands on Wednesday (13:00) is almost inevitably going to look closer in character to a SA ‘A’ outfit than the more customary senior national side.
Already 2-0 down and trounced each time, Monday’s confirmation that opening batsman and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock has a wrist injury – laying him low until perilously close to the Australian Test series from early March – only speeds up the haemorrhaging of proven match-winners at the crease by the Proteas.
De Kock is still relatively young at a recently-turned 25, and in the midst of a rare slump with the blade, but he sports 90 ODI caps and 3 860 runs at an average of 45.
Throw in the caps and runs of two other current heavyweight absentees, captain Faf du Plessis and primary crowd-pleaser AB de Villiers, and the squad gingerly shifting toward the Cape Town clash has given up a total of 432 appearances and a whopping 17 754 runs from that trio alone.
In such circumstances, receipt of some pain for those left behind – especially when you are playing a crack outfit like India – is virtually a fait accompli, although the particularly gory nature of the respective Kingsmead and SuperSport Park results so far is already casting some doubts around the range of quality batting at South Africa’s disposal.
The team that will take to the field on Wednesday will almost certainly feature at least three rank rookies in ODI street-wisdom terms amidst its pivotal top six: acting captain Aiden Markram (three caps to this point), Khaya Zondo (one) and a definite debutant now in the next-in-line gloveman Heinrich Klaasen.
Perhaps a little cavalierly considering how collectively brittle the SA batting looks – neither of the more seasoned David Miller and JP Duminy in the middle order are setting the world alight – the Proteas have announced that they will not be adding an extra batsman to the squad to compensate for De Kock’s void.
At least there is still one reasonably attractive option (considering his excellent 2017/18 domestic form for the Titans) from the “bench” in the form of slightly long-in-the-tooth Farhaan Behardien.
Still, at a time like this, and rattled by the sorry implosion to 118 all out at Centurion on Sunday, might it not also have been a shrewd idea to consider restoring someone like the gritty Test opener Dean Elgar, for example, to the ODI plans?
The left-hander at least has a strong reputation for knuckling down in pressure situations, even if only a lean total of six ODI appearances have come his way between 2012 and 2015., and his part-time spin isn’t the worst you will ever witness, either.
On that note, the general SA batting fragility is such that it may not be completely beyond the bounds of possibility that they chew on the tactic of beefing the XI with one additional batting specialist – the tail has looked dangerously long thus far – and making their “bowler five” a combination of part-timers Duminy, Markram and Behardien.
Yes, that will also trigger more than a bit of a shudder among Proteas observers and enthusiasts, but desperate times, desperate measures and all that?
Of course, close scrutiny of the Newlands pitch produced by Evan Flint – traditionally one of the premier curators in the country – will go some way to dictating how the Proteas balance their team to try to halt the Indian freight train.
In addition to the specific team humiliated by nine wickets at SuperSport Park (and now stripped of De Kock), the Proteas squad as presently constructed boasts extra options in Behardien, Andile Phehlukwayo, Lungi Ngidi and Klaasen, with the last-named man assured of playing on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old, Pretoria-born Klaasen, like Behardien, comes off sprightly form in the Momentum One-Day Cup, having notched 359 runs from his last seven matches in that competition – he is a clean, hard striker – at an average of around 51.
Someone like strike bowler Morne Morkel may be just about due a mini-break after featuring in all three Test matches plus the first two ODIs against India, so either – and possibly both -- of Ngidi and Phehlukwayo could see service in the match.
That said, if you take out Morkel, there go a further 114 caps at this time of substantial unease …
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