Cape Town – Political delicacy or downright intrigue routinely stalks South African cricket ... expect few changes on that front when the Proteas’ selectors reveal their difficult hand on Wednesday for the ICC World Twenty20 event.
Transformation is an unashamedly aggressive feature of Cricket South Africa’s policy, and while Linda Zondi’s panel have to balance the needs of batting, bowling and all-round requirements for the Indian-staged tournament in March, it is not as “simple” as that.
The 15-strong squad will also have to be deemed sufficiently representative in the boardroom, which inevitably only increases the complexity of the task.
In theory, CSA transformation is most vigorously pursued at franchise level, where this season the statutory requirement across the half-dozen domestic teams has been a minimum of six players of colour, and three of them black African.
A greater element of “merit” is supposedly allowed in picks at senior national level, although even there an undisclosed squad tally cut-off recommendation or stipulation will apply, you can be sure.
The last time South Africa played a major ICC limited-overs tournament, the 2015 World Cup, their 15-man squad featured seven players of colour, but it so happens that at least three of those have subsequently faded from the front lines of combat for varying reasons.
Bowling all-rounder Vernon Philander has been laid low since early November with a major ankle injury that has almost certainly ended his entire season, Wayne Parnell has battled a combination of both injury and moderate form, and Aaron Phangiso – who controversially did not even get a game at CWC 2015 – blotted his copybook with an alcohol-related disciplinary indiscretion and deterioration of domestic fortunes in 2015/16 with his left-arm spin.
In the last few months, Dolphins batsman and off-spinner Khaya Zondo has also earned a national limited-overs squad call-up (when the Proteas toured India) but he was not blooded and since then his franchise summer has been wretched.
The goal of the CSA hierarchy must surely be to see more, rather than fewer, players of colour coming to the fore for the Proteas, who reached the semi-finals of the last World T20 in 2014 when their squad contained as many as eight players of colour, but it so happens that just at present it is difficult to justify on pure cricket form or fitness-related availability any more than five or six who tick that box travelling to India soon.
I suspect there is every chance of an outcry over the make-up of the imminent squad, either because a pro-transformation lobby will be concerned over a decline in numbers of players from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, or from some enthusiasts bemoaning the perceived cold-shouldering of merit if some white players with strong recent statistics fail to make the cut as transformation principles are instead vigorously adhered to.
If Zondi’s panel do manage to somehow strike a happy “middle ground” between the requirements that have faced them in this instance, they have done exceedingly well.
In general, they will probably have tried to use most recent T20 squad composition as a key guideline in their selections.
Remember that the Proteas come off very heartening successive 2-0 victories in Subcontinent conditions – against first Bangladesh and then India.
Using the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory, then these 13 players who took part in the notable Indian success should revisit that very land for the global event: Faf du Plessis (capt), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Eddie Leie, David Miller, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Albie Morkel.
The aforementioned but since labouring Zondo, as well as slingshot paceman Marchant de Lange were the remaining members of the party, but will almost certainly not make the World T20 cut.
For one thing, South Africa will wish to reinstate long-time frontline strike bowlers Dale Steyn (though admittedly his readiness remains under a worrying cloud) and Morne Morkel, both of whom were rested from the Indian T20s in advance of the Test series.
They also had to withdraw all-rounder David Wiese from their squad at the time (broken hand), although the lanky Titans man is fit again and may well be vying for one berth with franchise-mate Albie Morkel – racing against time to get over a back problem – for the World T20 squad.
Rightly or wrongly, I think there is a risk that the big-hitting Miller is not going to fit into the squad jigsaw, perhaps partly on grounds that are not all purely cricket-related.
Then again, Miller has not yet managed a half-century in 37 T20 internationals, and he may be viewed to be competing with Rilee Rossouw for a spot as a “gun” left-hander in the middle order.
At the time of writing, a resurgent Beuran Hendricks, the hugely talented 25-year-old from the Cape Cobras, was mounting a late quest for national recall after a catalogue of injuries; he would bring precious left-arm pace variety but may have to wait a tad longer to get back into the top-flight fray.
Predicted SA squad: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, David Miller (or Rilee Rossouw), Albie Morkel (or David Wiese), Chris Morris, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Eddie Leie, Imran Tahir.
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