Proteas duo: Spin twins?

Aaron Phangiso (Getty Images)
Aaron Phangiso (Getty Images)
Cape Town - Whether South Africa can regularly afford to field two specialist left-arm spinners in the same line-up may be put to an educative test in the five-match one-day international series in Sri Lanka.

Hostilities begin at Colombo’s R Premadasa Stadium on Saturday (11:00 SA time) and if the side fielded by new coach Russell Domingo for the lone warm-up match earlier this week is any yardstick, the Proteas will pitch both established Robin Peterson and altogether more novice-like Aaron Phangiso into battle.

Both performed usefully, at least in scorebook terms, in Wednesday’s comfortable win over a Board President’s XI at Colts Cricket Club, so there must be a good chance the tourists will stick with a formula of three seamers and three spinners (batting all-rounder JP Duminy the supplementary element with his off-breaks) in the first ODI if the strip is on the slow side.

Understandably, some purists believe that South Africa might be better served if they were able field another full-time right-arm spinner (whether a leg-spinner or “offie”) to better alter the angle and variety of spin attack.

In that respect, eyebrows continue to be raised from some quarters about the exile of seasoned Johan Botha, still at the relatively youthful age of only 31, to Australia.

The 78-cap Botha has not played for his country at ODI level since March last year, and it would be interesting to know whether Domingo, who coached Botha at domestic level with the Warriors, is slightly more favourably inclined toward him than predecessor Gary Kirsten seemingly was.

Especially with the current Proteas side missing the vast experience of characters like Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, Botha’s known leadership abilities  – not to mention the various, gritty skills he offers as a broad limited-overs “package”-- might well be able to provide AB de Villiers with valuable aid in the current climate of ODI uncertainty for the country.

Still, the fact remains that he is a long way from the Spice Island right now, and the Proteas have to try to arrest the Lankans’ known home relish for getting after spin bowlers with what they’ve got in that department.

Peterson is very well established in the side and, even if he takes some inevitable “tap” every now and then over the course of the next couple of weeks from Messrs Sangakkara, Dilshan, Jayawardene and company, is just as capable through his increased wiles these days of winkling out some of the best of the Sri Lankan strokeplayers.

But has Phangiso’s time finally arrived?

The 29-year-old from the Lions has a mere two, relatively inconclusive ODI caps to his credit, so throwing him into the steamy cauldron of 50-overs activity in Sri Lanka would be a sink-or-swim opportunity if he does get regular exposure as well.

He has played only once previously in the same team as Peterson, although that, encouragingly, came in the Proteas’ lone victory and most impressive performance in the recent ICC Champions Trophy against Pakistan at Edgbaston.

Phangiso’s body language has been pretty good on rare appearances for his country across either the ODI or Twenty20 formats, so the portents for him to succeed in Sri Lanka certainly aren’t all daunting.

He does, of course, suffer through not offering any significant dual threat internationally as a batsman – though he can hold a blade competently domestically -- meaning that there is a special onus on him to cut the mustard for the Proteas at his main trade.

Also in his favour is that the national selectors and presumably team brains trust seem pretty determined that their present squad are collectively capable of gradually upping South Africa’s performance levels; they are no better than a mid-table sort of ODI outfit at the moment.

What would be a good result in Sri Lanka?

At the very least, I would suggest they must run the hosts close: considering South Africa’s notably grim history in these parts, a 3-2 sort of outcome in Sri Lanka’s favour with the series in the balance most of the way might be an acceptable enough showing, although Proteas enthusiasts will understandably be hoping for rather better than that.

The Proteas have not played a great deal of ODI fare in Sri Lanka since their emergence from isolation, with a 1-1 outcome in an intended three-match series (one no-result) back in 1993 actually their best result there thus far.

The real nadir came in 2004, still quite early in the long Graeme Smith era as captain, when South Africa were slaughtered 5-0 in the ODIs.

Any repeat of that result would certainly cajole the wise men into altering their current attitude of patience and loyalty ...

*The series is live on television on SS2 and CSN.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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