London – He has been a much-discussed, “thereabouts” kind of presence for the Proteas for a long time … and now Farhaan Behardien may find himself thrusted right back into the firing line for a high-stakes fixture.
Although marginally branded an all-rounder due to his sporadic medium-pace, Behardien is the closest alternative option South Africa have in the 15-man ICC Champions Trophy squad to fill one of their specialist batting spots amidst the top six.
He has not yet had a gig in two games at the tournament, given the pretty settled look to the front-line batting.
But with captain AB de Villiers carrying a hamstring problem and in some doubt for the group decider against India at The Oval here on Sunday, Behardien could find himself back in the XI for a 57th one-day international cap.
He last played in the ill-fated, series-deciding second ODI against England at Southampton on May 27, when he registered a less-than-fluent 17 off 25 balls without a boundary, although South Africa, in fairness, still really should have won rather than fritter things away by a two-run margin.
A prospering David Miller and Chris Morris were at the wicket for the critical last two overs, but England’s death bowling was superb and they could not achieve a very gettable 10 runs of 10 balls and later seven off seven.
Behardien had just one appearance during the earlier five-match series in New Zealand (SA won 3-2), playing at Hamilton where he got a golden duck.
Statistically, there is always shaky ground for justifying his presence in the ODI plans, as the 33-year-old sports only six half-centuries in his generous prior exposure to the format, and a top score of 70 against New Zealand at Potchefstroom in mid-2015.
In his defence, he often takes guard when the requirement is to get a crack-on immediately, and on the sadly few occasions he comes off in a meaningful way, he can look very good, showing signs of the class that characterises his domestic performances in limited-overs cricket.
He is a thinking, tenacious player who also pulls his weight in the field, and at least knows the SA methods and principles well.
Compounding the Proteas’ woes if De Villiers pulls out, though – Faf du Plessis would seamlessly assume the captaincy – is the fact that JP Duminy also isn’t in vintage touch at the crease, even if his off-spin has been tidy enough of late.
So their middle order could become an Achilles heel, especially if the game at The Oval – where Sri Lanka have just pulled off a dazzling chase of 322 with eight balls to spare against the very India – is a high-scoring one.
An alternative to Behardien, if De Villiers cannot take his place, is to instead install someone like Dwaine Pretorius one slot above the ever-improving Chris Morris – more of a finisher and renowned over-the-ropes sort of batsman – at No 6.
Lions favourite Pretorius has genuine, orthodox batting credentials, considering his first-class record, where he averages 42 and boasts a top score of 177, so he is certainly worth deep consideration – not least because he adds control and guile to the bowling line-up as well.
He is certainly a lot more than a spirited late-innings tonker, with much in the way of technical aptitude and correctness to his game.
But whichever way you look at it, and despite his unusually wretched personal start to the Champions Trophy in batting terms, it would be a mortal blow to the Proteas if their ace stroke-player De Villiers cannot be present for such a red-letter assignment on Sunday against an Indian side littered with their own sublime stroke-players.
In a situation like this, the loss of someone like Rilee Rossouw, the booming left-hander with three big ODI hundreds to his name, to a Kolpak deal is keenly felt.
The tall 27-year-old is just a stone’s throw away, as it were … only playing for Hampshire in county cricket instead.
*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing