Proteas: Morkel seems safe Newlands bet

Morne Morkel (Getty)
Morne Morkel (Getty)

Cape Town – From the guy with the growing “rap sheet” to the gentle giant of their pace ranks.

That is the major swing South Africa will probably make selection-wise for the third Test against Australia at Newlands -- where finally the series should see the sort of crowd it deserves -- from next Thursday.

READ: SUSPENDED - ICC hit Rabada with series ban

There is also likely to be at least some thought toward a tweak on the specialist batting front.

The disciplinary fate of man-of-the-moment Kagiso Rabada, main individual hero of the six-wicket victory and series-leveller at St George’s Park on Monday, was duly confirmed a few hours later: the next Test is a no-go for him and the Wanderers finale as well.

That news negates the advantage the Proteas drew in momentum terms from their well-merited triumph in Port Elizabeth.

Rabada has both looked and been the best quickie on view from either side across the first two Tests in the enthralling, but hitherto controversy-marred series – he is leading wicket-taker with 15, including 11 in the just wrapped-up victory.

He is South Africa’s go-to man when they particularly need activity in the wickets column, and whatever the merits or demerits of the steps against him, it is detrimental for the series as a whole that it has come to a grinding halt for him at the halfway mark but an even costlier blow for the home cause.

Whilst there is still the intriguing possibility that the Proteas gamble – assuming he’s deemed suitably fit – on another known X-factor figure in Dale Steyn, former captain Graeme Smith suggested in SuperSport’s on-field summary of the PE Test that Morne Morkel appears the most logical hole-filler at Newlands for Rabada.

The lanky, vastly experienced paceman was omitted for Lungi Ngidi at St George’s Park … probably a tough decision, although the much younger replacement fared encouragingly enough in the triumph.

Morkel is in his swansong series, and will be desperate to get his next three wickets in the bag to reach 300 scalps in the Test arena before he vacates the international arena.

He is capable of bowling pretty lengthy spells, which is important because the otherwise exciting Ngidi is still not yet renowned in that area – Smith believes he needs to get his big frame “a bit lighter to carry a load in Test cricket” -- and sometimes drops his pace down a little more than he should.

Of course Steyn ticking the availability box after his heel injury would spark intense thought among the SA brains trust, but he may need to bowl a lot of convincing overs under the Paarl sun for the Titans against the Cobras (a Sunfoil Series match starts there on Thursday) to warrant any consideration.

His big drawback is that South Africa have recently shifted back to a three-pronged pace arsenal rather than four, so it is essential that the trio picked can all last the scheduled five days of a Test match.

Although AB de Villiers being at his sensational best in PE was a massive boost on the batting front (on any other occasion he would probably have romped to player-of-the-match), there is still a lingering fragility to the Proteas’ line-up in that department – something evidenced again when they lost four wickets in the modest chase to 101.

Theunis de Bruyn has just completed back-to-back Tests for the first time (in five appearances in total), so he would be unlucky in some respects if he gets the boot again.

But it also a sober fact that the young right-hander sports only 130 runs in the format at 14.44, and knocks of 6, 36, 1 and 15 not out in the Aussie series.

Temba Bavuma has been patiently biding his time on the SA “bench” in the series – though part of it due to gradual recovery from a finger injury – and with a decent gap now to the Newlands Test, he ought be labelled 100 percent fit for a possible recall next week.

Bear in mind that Newlands is where the diminutive but big-hearted Bavuma made his poignant maiden century against England in January 2016, and he has been fairly consistent in delivery terms over the course of the away series in England last year, and then the slightly more recent home ones against minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile the Australians have batting issues of their own, with question marks around individuals in certain berths and the fact that neither of their known biggest guns, captain Steve Smith (130 runs at 32.50) and the belligerent David Warner (155 at 38.75), has really set the series alight yet.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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