Shift toward ‘Klaasen time’ for Proteas?

Heinrich Klaasen (Gallo)
Heinrich Klaasen (Gallo)

Cape Town – At least for the next few days, they are squad-mates again.

David Miller, back from a break during the one-day international series, and Heinrich Klaasen have joined forces as bruising middle-order batsmen with “finishing” credentials for South Africa’s three-match Twenty20 international series against Zimbabwe.

Hostilities were due to begin on Tuesday evening (18:00) in East London.

While it is a different format, many tried and trusted general limited-overs principles still apply – so the needs of the 50-overs World Cup in England next year will, you can bet, remain pretty close to the minds of head coach Ottis Gibson, his lieutenants and the national selectors over the next few days.

Why the focus on Miller and Klaasen specifically?

It is because there is the chance that only one, and not necessarily both, will make the ODI team (perhaps even the travelling squad as a whole) at CWC 2019.

Yes, the reasonably traditional “Miller time” – the cue for an intended late-innings blitzkrieg at the crease – is under threat of alteration to “Klaasen time” if the latter continues his positive development at international level.

If it does come down to a straight shootout at some point between the pair for one place in the ODI XI – and remember that Gibson currently seems to tilt slightly toward a bowler-heavy look to his line-ups, at the expense of depth with the blade – Klaasen has the advantage of his very decent back-up wicketkeeper credentials.

Miller, naturally, has a clear edge in experience: the 29-year-old left-hander boasts 109 ODI and 61 T20 international appearances, stretching back to 2010.

But for all his reputation of being really irresistible when he is firing on full cylinders – simultaneously taking games away from the opposition more often than not with his threatening of rooftiles – the Pietermaritzburg-born customer has never yet found agreeable enough consistency for the SA cause.

That includes the most recent ODI series in Sri Lanka where, despite the 3-2 Proteas success, he registered 85 runs from four knocks at 21.25.

He has tended to retain his place more by hope -- and reputation when on song -- than by regularity of big numbers: Miller’s ODI career average is just below 37 despite his yeoman length of service.

While he remains too dangerous a player (strike rate 101) to be nonchalantly dispensed with, the gradual rise of slightly younger Klaasen, 27, who also hits a ball with a rasping crack when in attack mode, does crank up the likelihood of Miller’s place becoming imperilled.

He is only nine ODIs down, and Tuesday will be his fifth T20 international if he plays, but the Titans player has made a pretty auspicious start for his country.

Klaasen is already averaging close enough to the 30-mark in each arena for the Proteas, and boasts respective strike rates of 87.96 and 171.87 – those are numbers most top-flight rookies would be extremely encouraged by.

Although he failed in Bloemfontein during the 3-0 whitewash of the Zimbabweans in the just-completed ODIs, the right-handed stroke-player made valuable runs, amidst a shaky batting arsenal, at both Kimberley (44) and Paarl (59).

Klaasen needs to learn to value his wicket a bit better – in each of those innings he got out just before the final nail was hammered in – but his potential as a power-striker (he slams the ball especially impressively in front of square on the leg side) was also there for all to see.

Miller and Klaasen will be allies in arms over the next few days -- and perhaps also weeks and months that follow.

But beyond that, and especially once certain established figures return to the side, just maybe there is going to be room for only one of them at the proverbial inn?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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