Proteas

SA’s bowler 5 ... all change, please

Farhaan Behardien (Gallo Images)
Farhaan Behardien (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Plan B has some scary aspects to it as well, frankly. But Plan A has certainly got to be scrapped now.

That “Plan A”, of course, is the Proteas’ reasonably enduring use in one-day internationals of middle-order batsmen JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien - who aren’t even flaying attacks left, right and centre at their stronger trades - as shared fifth bowler.

It was an understandable method, when first implemented and when it very fitfully came off thereafter, of trying to plug a hugely bothersome predicament in their team balance.

But the first two of five scheduled ODIs against England - who won comfortably in Port Elizabeth on Saturday for a 2-0 lead to keep Ian Botham’s cheeky clean-sweep theory alive - have provided painful evidence that it is simply no longer viable against classier foes.

And we have gradually, ruefully learnt in these parts over the summer that the current crop of England cricketers are a classy outfit indeed - fresh from the deserved Test series triumph, they are proving superior in the ODIs thus far for collective polish, hunger, balance, professionalism and innovation.

You could probably throw in a few more superlatives, but in fairness they might be premature given that the series isn’t quite done and dusted yet.

Only last season, after all, South Africa did manage to win three home ODIs in a row, although they were right at the less pressured start - the first three - of a similarly five-game series against West Indies, and with respect those tourists can’t be mentioned in the same breath as this blossoming England side of 2015/16.

Even as they continue to boast several still dangerous world-class individuals in their midst, the Proteas look flat and predictable as a unit, with their brains trust - perhaps even more off the field than on it - coming under rightfully mounting scrutiny.

It is also at times like this that existing weaknesses only become amplified ... and so it is proving in the matter of the fifth-bowler conundrum.

Between them, Duminy and Behardien have a bowling return of 1/155 from 20 overs at Mangaung Oval and St George’s Park, which as much as anything else reveals that they are travelling at very close to eight runs to the over.

It was impossible not to feel some sympathy for their plight in Bloemfontein on a truer, faster surface where the Proteas’ main bowlers were little short of terrible for discipline and only made their part-timers greater sitting ducks than would ordinarily be the case.

But the surface in PE, a typically slow one, did give Duminy the opportunity to get some revolutions on the ball with his off-spin and Behardien to deliver some gripping, hard-to-get-away little seamers.

Neither occurred in any meaningful way, and to compound the latter’s discomfort, the normally very decent fielder spilled a catch in the deep toward the contest’s finish, at a time when the Proteas still had an outside chance of victory.

It may well have been a cherry on top, if you like, to the growing likelihood that Behardien will miss the cut for the XI in the third ODI at Centurion on Tuesday.

Duminy remains a player under pressure, but give the man some credit: as a batsman on Saturday, the little left-hander had worked himself pluckily into a position to take over as the senior batsman for the crucial chase in the closing overs of the SA innings (after revitalised AB de Villiers had fallen victim to another miracle catch) only to get a really rough lbw decision from umpire Johan Cloete on 47.

On that basis, he merits a reprieve for SuperSport Park, but it seems much more feasible now that his fifth-bowler role may not be required at all, if the Proteas choose instead to entrust a bit more of a bowling all-rounder – one of Chris Morris or David Wiese – with the No 7 slot in the order in place of Behardien.

Duminy is a strange shadow of his former self on the bowling front, although at this stage the jury also remains out on whether either Morris or Wiese cuts the mustard as a frontline seamer, with full 10-overs potential, in the 50-over format.

It is also a sad reality that if Behardien is given the chop, very little is done (assuming he is replaced by either of the candidates mentioned) to alleviate the perception that South Africa have little genuinely high-quality firepower with the willow beyond the No 6 berth.

But it is a chance they may simply be forced to take from here.

The status-quo arrangement is proving too much of a liability.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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