CWC: How Dwaine can trim SA’s tail

Dwaine Pretorius (Gallo Images)
Dwaine Pretorius (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - One of them firing with the bat, the other with the ball in the closing fixture of the Proteas’ home summer ... perhaps there was a little message wrapped in there?

It was that South Africa’s likely main two all-rounders at the looming World Cup, Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo, should be seriously considered for being fielded together in key matches at the UK-staged event from late May.

They were major factors in the 3-0, clean sweep-ensuring victory in the final Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers on Sunday.

Pretorius, having had relatively few opportunities to show his batting mettle in the white-ball portion of the ‘Lankan tour, was promoted to No 3 at his home base of the Bullring, and promptly justified the show of faith with an SA-best score for him of 77 not out at an eye-opening strike rate - at least to those who may have the rank misconception that he is a tad stodgy - of 183.33 and 46 of the runs in boundaries.

He admitted later that the elevation had only become apparent when he “got a surprise in the team huddle ... it was great”.

But the tall, versatile customer, vigilant at first and then amassing a serious head of steam with meaty striking and some shrewd, more subtle strokes as well, certainly ticked the box of pleasing the selectors and coaching panel alike, given their stated desire recently of finding a No 7 in the 50-overs tournament who sports batting as a genuinely meaningful attribute.

Visiting commentator and former Sri Lankan international Russel Arnold - holder of 180 ODI caps - was impressed too: “He’s very powerful (at the crease) ... I like what I see of him. He came in and knocked it around a bit first before opening up.”

Pretorius helped the rejuvenated Reeza Hendricks, later named player of the T20 series as he notched a second successive half-century, post 90 runs for the second wicket in only some nine overs.

When the jaded, generally demoralised-looking visitors went after their target of 199 (later reduced a little by Duckworth/Lewis method after a late-game rain interruption), it was the turn of Phehlukwayo to once again demonstrate his extraordinary ability to get consistently in the wickets column, whether it be at T20 or 50-overs level.

The young KwaZulu-Natalian bagged a personal best of his own, his 4/24 in his 21st T20 international meaning that in two appearances in this series - he was rested at Centurion on Friday night - he has picked up seven wickets for 49 runs.

His skill level just gets better and better (the slower knuckle-ball is a true gift) but if there is one reservation about him it has been his ability to do justice to the important ODI berth of seven in batting terms, especially against friskier attacks in English conditions.

Phehlukwayo is a particularly dangerous hitter when the mood grabs him but he plays with impulsiveness and a cavalier spirit - hardly the worst qualities to have in many respects - and that, arguably, makes him better suited to the slightly freer responsibilities of No 8.

But if the Proteas stick to the intention, stated a few weeks ago, of fielding four out-and-out strike bowlers in the bottom four (the names of Rabada, Steyn, Ngidi and Tahir come instantly to mind), then there will clearly be room only for one of Phehlukwayo or Pretorius in the side as fifth bowler and occupier of the vital, balancing seven spot.

That gives opponents, either heavyweight or more minnow, a healthy sense that they can exploit a fluffy tail if South Africa get into early peril at the crease.

So there is a credible case for suggesting that the Proteas - batting not a massively healthy suit of theirs for a year or more - limit their frontline bowlers to three (thus only two of the three main pacemen, possibly rotated game by game?) and squeeze both all-rounders into the mix.

That would mean the better comfort in batting depth terms of having Pretorius at seven and Phehlukwayo one slot lower ... and a situation where 20 overs are shared between those two and the part-time off-spin of middle-order batsman JP Duminy.

It would still give South Africa a weighty enough attack, especially when you consider that Phehlukwayo is increasingly a strike factor himself despite his essentially medium pace, while Pretorius has the ability to get a bit of movement off the seam in the right conditions off a fullish length - as he did a couple of years back in often damp New Zealand.

At very least, though, there should be compelling competition at the World Cup between the pair, if only one spot is available between them, and that can’t be bad, can it?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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