Proteas have few beef-up options

Wayne Parnell (Getty)
Wayne Parnell (Getty)

Birmingham – Wayne Parnell and JP Duminy, both of whom deliver game-tilting performances far too fitfully, seem the players most at risk of side-lining as South Africa turn their thoughts urgently to Sunday’s final ICC Champions Trophy Group B meeting with India at The Oval.

Following a bright beginning to their campaign, the Proteas had every justification for naming, as they did, an unchanged XI for Wednesday’s ill-fated, rain-affected match against Pakistan, an outcome that has dragged them back into the peloton, as it were, when it comes to qualification for the semi-finals.

Beat the Indians and South Africa will almost certainly make the cut, lose - or experience a no-result - and the likelihood becomes dangerously mathematical, not to mention improbable.

The Proteas were so fancied to beat Pakistan, considering that team’s chaotic thrashing from India and SA’s own campaign-starting disposal of Sri Lanka, that it seemed the last pool fixture might even end up being a relatively “relaxed” one back in London (11:30 SA time).

But instead they are seemingly facing the swing-doors of last chance saloon.

Given the split-personality nature of their collective showings over games one and two, South Africa’s chances of breaking that 19-year major-tournament jinx will be subjected to further downgrade from many observers.

Right now a side like host-nation England, with their massive batting consistency – they rattle up 300-plus scores for fun – and strike options at all stages of innings from several sources on the bowling front look a particularly appealing bet for the trophy, although the knockout phase will reveal whether they are at risk of having peaked a tad too quickly.

And of course when the Proteas square up to India and their passionate army of supporters at The Oval, they will also be facing the defending champions (from 2013) of this event.

Along the way four years back, India saw off South Africa by 26 runs in pool play at Cardiff after a high-scoring tussle.

In more general terms, however, the Proteas hold the statistical aces over India when it comes to ODIs on neutral turf: they lead 11-8 (one no-result).

Overall, too, South Africa hold bilateral sway 45-28 in ODIs, with a win percentage rate of 61.64 against these foes.

That will count for nothing on Sunday, of course, and coach Russell Domingo admitted after the Edgbaston defeat: “There’s some thinking to do.”

Whether that will involve a change or two of personnel for the high-pressure task remains to be seen.

For one thing, pitch conditions and the notably unsettled British weather stubbornly being experienced will have to play a part in their deliberations.

As things stand, long-range forecasts suggest drier, sunnier and warmer weather by the weekend in London, so that is a relief if South Africa do, as expected, simply have to topple India.

I would argue that the Proteas’ top five – assuming captain AB de Villiers’s worrisome hamstring niggle stays only that or mends altogether – is as settled as it could be, especially with David Miller, at five, showing such composure and patience in his 75 not out against Pakistan; he is increasingly more than just a finishing “bomber”.

But the JP Duminy naysayers will continue to carp over his enduring ticket to the party, following another failure (eight off 14 balls) when the Proteas could really have done with some defiant, under-the-cosh runs off his blade.

Mind you, he is still useful as a sixth bowling option and perhaps De Villiers even erred by not giving him a crack with his off-spin ahead of the fateful rain here; Pakistan had earlier got important value out of some of their own part-time tweakers.

It has to be kept in mind that South Africa have a far from heavyweight stock of additional frontline batting possibilities at this event - on the outside looking is merely Farhaan Behardien, with a cold-fact, career batting average in ODIs of just 30.

If the Proteas opted to bring in another of their bowling all-rounders who offers the steeliest prospects at the crease, then that man would probably be Dwaine Pretorius, who has already banked a half-century (in New Zealand in February) from only four turns at the ODI crease and also prospers in first-class cricket where he averages 42.

But another concern, even as big Morne Morkel continues to thrive anew in international cricket after his layoff, surrounds Wayne Parnell, who had a glaringly poor match against Pakistan.

The left-arm seamer, for all his talent, continues to simply offer up too many “release” deliveries to batsmen in situations where South Africa cannot afford to leak runs too violently or charitably.

Both the steady Pretorius and still-developing but multi-skilled Andile Phehlukwayo are bound to come under discussion as alternative seam options against India.

*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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