No 7 headache intensifying for Faf, Proteas

Farhaan Behardien (Gallo)
Farhaan Behardien (Gallo)

Cape Town - The stars are aligning for the Proteas in most respects just 10 ODIs out from the 2019 World Cup, but the issue of who will bat at No 7 remains the biggest headache for skipper Faf du Plessis and the national selectors. 

One thing we know now is that Du Plessis is backing the long tail of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir.

It is a balance that obviously gives the Proteas serious power in the bowling department, but it leaves them short in depth of quality batting, especially if they produce an all-too-familiar top order wobble in a crunch World Cup fixture. 

As a result, Du Plessis says the importance of runs at No 7 solidly outweighs the need for wickets.

With that criteria now set, things do not look good for Andile Phehlukwayo.

While his bowling has never been questioned, the 22-year-old has not shown enough mettle with the bat despite boasting a respectable, albeit skewed ODI average of 26.90 with 10 not outs from 21 innings. 

Phehlukwayo's best effort with the bat in Proteas colours remains the 42* he scored in a match-winning effort against Australia in Durban two years ago. 

Dwaine Pretorius, meanwhile, bowled well in South Africa's 2-1 ODI series win Australia, but he too has not done anything significant enough to convince selectors that he is the right man to get the job done with the bat. 

Wiaan Mulder is out injured, Chris Morris has only recently returned from injury and Vernon Philander could feature in the five ODIs against Pakistan in the second half of January. 

The other option, and one that is seeming increasingly possible listening to Du Plessis, is to play seven specialist batsmen and give JP Duminy more of a responsibility with the ball. 

The top six at this stage looks likely to be: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis, Duminy and David Miller. 

Throwing in another specialist batsman - Heinrich Klaasen, for example - would give the Proteas some much-needed 'oomph' in their batting, but it would mean that Duminy and probably even Markram would have to bowl. 

"We are possibly considering the fact that we might need our part-time bowlers to play a bigger role so we can have seven of our best batters playing together. There are a few combinations that we are looking at," Du Plessis said.

"If you have JP back then he can bowl 10 overs, but he offers you at least five, so you're looking for five more overs from somewhere, even if it's someone like Aiden Markram bowling a bit.

"The important thing becomes runs because playing in England you might find yourself three down. With a bowling allrounder at No 7 you are potentially exposing yourself to something that can go wrong."

With that all being said, a player like Farhaan Behardien might be starting to fancy his chances. 

Now 35 and with 59 ODIs under his belt, Behardien has frustrated a lot of people over the years given his inability to come good in pressure situations. 

But, considering the current balance of this Proteas side, he might be the answer to a headache that is starting to linger for the brains trust. 

A seasoned finisher at domestic level, Behardien's batting is significantly better than his bowling. But, if needed, he could chip in with a few overs. 

Reading between the lines while speaking to Du Plessis on Monday, that seems exactly the type of player the Proteas are looking for to complete their World Cup puzzle. 

"We know with our four-bowler attack that there is enough x-factor in our bowling, but it is also a long tail," Du Plessis said.

"We will look at the strength of the allrounder from a batting point of view." 

The Pakistan series could end up being a big one for 'Fudgie'. 

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