Proteas’ selectors survive minefield

Aaron Phangiso (Gallo Images)
Aaron Phangiso (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The South African squad for the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in India should stave off – just about – any major hue and cry from the diverse array of critics in the country.

It is about as “balanced” as it could be considering that Linda Zondi’s national selection panel have to negotiate certain extra challenges, in the 15-strong party make-up, not faced by their counterparts elsewhere on the cricketing planet.

I’d suggest that the wise men have tiptoed through a minefield and emerged with no more than the odd mangled toe.

There will be those, insistent in their unwillingness to accept anything other than merit principles, who lament certain exclusions; the two most prominent sacrifices are probably the Morkel brothers, Morne and Albie.

Yet there will also be a sector wondering why, considering the ramped-up transformation drive at franchise level this season, this Proteas group contains six player of colour whilst the squad which made the semi-finals of the last World T20 in 2014 had eight.

So in the eternal “sport versus politics” conundrum, you could say the selectors have perhaps found an acceptable medium in this instance and might even warrant a mild ripple of applause for it.

I feel very sorry for the lanky Morne Morkel, who may have been omitted at least partly, and quite unjustly if so, for the very reason that he has run in so enduringly and uncomplainingly for the Proteas’ cause in all formats in recent months and a perception may exist in the corridors of influence that he is on waning batteries this season.

The strike bowler must be close to gutted about the latest development, especially when you bear in mind that he was, unusually, one of the most visibly emotional SA players in the dramatic seconds immediately after that cliff-hanger World Cup 2015 semi-final defeat to New Zealand.

It was a case once again of “so near, yet so far” for the country in a major ICC one-day tournament, and an occasional clouded by the unsettling Philander-Abbott affair in the lead-up to a match the Proteas nevertheless threw the kitchen sink at.

Believe it or not, South Africa have just about as good a chance of any side at the looming event; a personal belief is that T20 is their bet at significant glory in this time of general transition.

And Morkel – hardly getting any younger at 31 -- will not be there to experience it, unless the recalled Dale Steyn continues to be dogged by injury and cannot go. (He must, surely, be the next cab off the pace rank if the Phalaborwa Express fails to leave the platform?)

Then again, recent T20 international statistics suggest that Morkel’s non-selection is more unfortunate than it is inexplicable: he has had a fairly rough time of it in his last six appearances in the format, sporting unflattering combined figures of 2/198 in 19.1 overs.

Do the maths and it ain’t great.

As for the failure of big-hitting Albie Morkel – a bit of an iconic T20 figure in India -- to crack the nod, his cause probably wasn’t helped by an untimely bout of back problems of late.

Ahead of that inconvenience, though, he had been showing signs of fresh appetite domestically, and was also player of the match when the Proteas clinched the T20 mini-series against India in Cuttack last October.

I noticed on Twitter than Morkel’s Indian-based fan club are more than bemused about his no-show.

There are relatively few contentious other SA selections for the jamboree, with the squad marked by (at least) eight-strong specialist batting firepower and pleasing inclusions for both Rilee Rossouw and David Miller; I had wrongly calculated on Sunday that one of the left-handed power-strikers would fail to make the cut.

Nor is there too much reason to quibble with the preference of left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso to the greener Eddie Leie as back-up to Imran Tahir in the dedicated slow-bowling department.

Phangiso has impressed more often than disappointed me for his cool ability to stifle the flow of runs in limited-overs internationals, even if he doesn’t come across as a natural wicket-taker of special regularity.

His fulsome, unreserved apology for that liquor-related disciplinary breach several months ago is where that episode deserves to end and if anything being back on board with the national team should rekindle fullest focus from the Lions stalwart.

My main concern is whether he might complete an unpalatable double – remember this is a much shorter event too – by failing, as he did at CWC 2015, to get a single game ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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