MSL: Proteas’ T20 pool is swelling

Lutho Sipamla (Gallo)
Lutho Sipamla (Gallo)

Cape Town – If variety is the spice of life, South Africa’s selectors look like having a broader stock of players to choose from soon for Twenty20 international purposes, courtesy of the Mzansi Super League.

A positive overspill into the other white-ball arena - one-day internationals - is also quite possible, even if the Proteas probably have more settled, clearly-identified resources at this point in the 50-overs game.

T20 internationals have limited gravitas – though they can put healthy numbers of bums on seats – whenever there is still some way to go to the next ICC World Twenty20 tournament (now to be called the ICC T20 World Cup and held roughly every two years).

The current period has been an exception, with a gap of four years between the last one, held in India in 2016, and the next due to be hosted by Australia in 2020.

But between now and the Aussie event, most international teams are going to gradually start taking their T20 plans more seriously.

That will very likely include the Proteas, who played a once-off T20 international at the tail-end of their successful white-ball tour Down Under recently and, not without justification, simply kept their ODI personnel there to complete the tour-closer on the Gold Coast.

Apart from the cost saving involved in not flying over additional troops simply for one less-than-heavyweight match, it also meant that the MSL wasn’t deprived of even more national-calibre players at the start of the maiden league – a situation that was never going to be ideal.

But the next few months will see the Proteas play all-formats home series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively, including three T20 internationals in each instance, so expect the SA team to begin to look considerably more “specialist” for the shortest brand of the game.

Already some fresh faces have been blooded in early 2018/19, including batsmen Rassie van der Dussen and Gihahn Cloete, who made debuts against Zimbabwe; the former has made his mark by including a half-century in his two international innings thus far.

As the round-robin phase of the MSL draws toward a close, though, and inadvertently aided by the limited presence of overseas stars in its midst, the tournament is throwing up promising additional candidates for consideration down the line by Linda Zondi and his fellow national selectors.

This is reflected in the lists for leading run-scorers and wicket-takers at this point, featuring several names you would not automatically have branded credible options for SA selection at the outset of the MSL.

For example, running second to the sensational Reeza Hendricks – a reasonably established Proteas player – for most runs is the Cape Town Blitz’s 22-year-old Janneman Malan (279 at an average of a touch under 40).

The Nelspruit-born right-hander has been eye-openingly consistent throughout the MSL, his seven appearances seeing him contribute meaningfully just about every time; he has not registered less than 19 yet at the crease, and has a top score of 66 among his two half-tons.

But another previously unheralded 22-year-old lies seventh on the batting chart, Jozi Stars’ Ryan Rickelton – the former SA Schools left-hander - having accumulated 187 runs at 31, including a scorching 91 (strike rate 154 on what is not normally the quickest of surfaces) in only his second MSL exposure against Paarl Rocks at Boland Park.

On the bowling list, meanwhile, three emerging South African non-internationals occupy berths among the top six scalp-grabbers in the competition as things stand.

Enthusiastically touted by his captain AB de Villiers, Tshwane Spartans speedster Lutho Sipamla, a particularly callow 20, already boasts a trio of “three-fors” in his seven MSL outings giving him a total of 12 dismissals so far and second place for most wickets.

A new spin prospect is on the brew, too, with Paarl Rocks’ left-armer Bjorn Fortuin – a local product, which is always pleasing – showing some good control when asked to bowl often at the outset of opponents’ innings; he is joint-fourth with nine wickets.

Although his tournament was sadly cut very short by injury, the Blitz’s Anrich Nortje had shown a combination of real hostility and admirable discipline in three games, snaring eight wickets in his three outings.

The Eastern Cape man, 25, looks invitingly like a replacement for the great Dale Steyn when the Phalaborwa Express eventually chugs into the sunset …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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