Proteas: Rank-and-file Faf still has enormous role

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Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)
Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – South Africa will pitch some of their hardiest soldiers back into battle against southern hemisphere arch-rivals Australia over the course of three Twenty20 matches in the next few days.

That was confirmed by the national selectors on Monday as established heavyweights Faf du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada – as well as emerging speed factor Anrich Nortje – were returned to duty from a break to the series, beginning at the Wanderers on Friday (18:00).

Simultaneously, the Proteas automatically stiffen up the experience levels in their 16-strong squad, after a more rookie-laden one put up a plucky fight before succumbing 2-1 to England.

Du Plessis, who on the same day announced he had relinquished all claims to national captaincy at the age of 35, returns to rank and file status for the first time in several years and his white-ball tally of 187 caps (143 ODI, 44 T20) will be comforts in the looming, two-format combat against the Aussies.

For those misguidedly thinking that the right-handed batsman should have stepped back entirely from international cricket, a quick glance at his most recent statistics in the limited-overs landscape should jolt them back to reality.

His last three innings in the 50-overs format – key parts of a defiant end to the Proteas’ 2019 World Cup in England despite the earlier, exit-ensuring woes – are 63 against Pakistan (Lord’s), 96 not out against Sri Lanka (Chester-le-Street) and 100 against the very Australians (Manchester).

As for T20 international combat, he has not been dismissed in single figures in any of his last 10 knocks in the risk-laden environment, averaging over 30 in the period to be not far off his impressive SA career total average of 35.86 and strike rate of 135.

So there are really no grounds at all yet to suggest he is a spent force in one-day cricket for the national cause, while his sprightly fielding and the supplementary wisdom he will be able to dispense to new skipper Quinton de Kock cannot be undervalued, either.

The return of spearhead bowler Rabada – he has not played any cricket at all for just over a month now, since the third Test against England at St George’s Park in mid-February – should also ensure that the Proteas are a pepped-up force in a department that had its issues in the riveting, high-scoring T20 series against Eoin Morgan’s high-quality troops.

While missing the final Test against England was suspension-related rather than due to rest considerations, Rabada is finally being used that key bit less fatiguingly by South Africa, and they will hope he is fresh and firing after his feet-up stint against opponents he traditionally tends to smell cordite against to a pronounced degree.

The Lions-based favourite -- who does need to temper his wicket-taking celebrations a little after a few disciplinary mishaps on that score -- will nudge closer to 100 white-ball caps for the Proteas in the T20 series: he currently stands on 96 (75 in ODIs, 21 in T20s).

As for Nortje (the returning trio replace Reeza and Beuran Hendricks, plus Sisanda Magala), the less seasoned slingshot from the Eastern Cape will have the chance to add to his solitary T20 international cap thus far: achieved against India at Mohali in September.

He has become an assertive, penetrative figure in home conditions this season and the wise men will no doubt be hoping Australian batsmen think twice before trying to two-step down the track to him, because of his notably high pace levels.

There are no signs yet of proven figures like Imran Tahir, Chris Morris or the much-debated AB de Villiers, but the next edition of the ICC T20 World Cup is still some eight months away, Down Under, and the latest selection steps do suggest the Proteas are cranking up their “best squad” aspirations a noticeable notch or two …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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