Cape Town – Should it be a foregone conclusion that Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada, the two most settled members of the Proteas’ injury-plagued pace attack, play in the dead-rubber final Test against England at Centurion from Friday?
The selectors and team brains trust could hardly be blamed if they wouldn’t really fancy omitting either, given the need to begin a redemption mission as quickly as possible and ideally muster the best possible resources to try to prevent, at the very least, a blown-out 0-3 series outcome.
South Africa would particularly love to win not only to reduce the final score-line to 1-2, but just to sample a victorious feeling again after a rare nine Tests on the trot without one.
As it is, the Proteas have been badly affected by the absence of Vernon Philander for the entire series and Dale Steyn for all but the opening clash in Durban, where the veteran broke down and wasn’t able to regain fitness for any further role in the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy hostilities.
A markedly inexperienced look to the home bowling arsenal has been one reason why England have taken such an unexpectedly one-sided grip on things up to this point.
The still 20-year-old Rabada continues to develop in leaps and bounds at Test level and, following his maiden five-for – one of few bright aspects of the Wanderers thrashing – it would seem sacrilegious to some if he sat out the next game.
But the fixture unavoidably has less gravitas now, and there is a solid case for arguing that he and (or?) the lanky-framed Morkel, who have borne the heaviest loads of any SA pacemen in recent months, should be rested in the interests of the looming limited-overs portion of the tour.
Both will also be near-certain picks for the Proteas’ squad to take part in the next ICC World Twenty20, scheduled for India in early March, and need to be as fresh as possible for the demands of the benign Subcontinent surfaces.
Morkel is the leading South African wicket-taker (10 at 33.70) in the series thus far and has played in all three Tests, bowling a total of 116.3 overs – that is more than any other seamer across both sides.
England’s most hard-working customer, the in-form Stuart Broad, has sent down 96.1 overs, and easily tops the series scalps chart with 15 thus far at 16.46.
But Rabada who, remember, has still played relatively little first-class cricket, has bowled 70 of his own over the course of two successive clashes with the English for his nine wickets at 37.55.
Both men also played three Tests each on the gruelling, ultimately deflating prior tour of India, where they were also key components of the fine effort at the outset in South Africa winning both one-day components – the ODIs 3-2 and the T20 clashes 2-0.
If they were Australian, I have little doubt that Morkel and Rabada – or at least one of them – would not be called into action for a dead-rubber Test match if there were bigger-picture needs to think about just a bit further down the line; the Aussies are renowned for assembling a big pool of fast bowlers across the three international formats and often rotating them pretty shrewdly.
Personally, I suspect neither will get a break this weekend ... but don’t crucify the Proteas’ strategists if they do daringly “pull” one of them from the SuperSport Park contest in the interests of curbing a burnout threat.
My suggestion for a best possible pace trio (if that is the preferred approach, and assuming off-spinner Dane Piedt returns to the XI on Friday) in the fourth Test would be Morkel, Rabada and Kyle Abbott.
The trouble with any decision to invite Morkel to put his feet up at the venue he knows better than any, is that SA would be going in without his 70-Test experience and putting out a bowling line-up that would collectively be their most wet behind the ears in many a year.
A few months ago, a Proteas Test attack minus all of the Steyn-Philander-Morkel triumvirate would have seemed quite unthinkable.
But if they do bite the bullet, take immediate future itinerary needs into account and withdraw either of Morkel or Rabada, the door would obviously open invitingly to one of Hardus Viljoen or Chris Morris to atone for their too generous concession-rate of runs at the Bullring ...
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