Proteas’ CWC 15: Outrage deftly ducked

Aiden Markram (Gallo)
Aiden Markram (Gallo)

Cape Town – About as good as they could be. That is difficult to dispute … isn’t it?

National selection convenor Linda Zondi was highly unlikely to have had to face up to lynch mobs as he left SuperSport’s Johannesburg studios following revelation on Thursday of the Proteas squad for the 2019 World Cup.

With due respect to some good, unfortunate cricketers who will not be on the plane to London next month (Reeza Hendricks and Chris Morris perhaps at the peak of that category?), South Africa will throw probably their worthiest 15 players at the task of winning their bogey tournament for the first time in eight attempts.

For several weeks in the lead-up hype, debate has been focussed pretty squarely around three pegs to fit into two suspected holes, if you like: batsmen Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla and Hendricks, with one having a largely free winter.

Had either of Markram (positively explosive white-ball form domestically this season) or Amla (a grandmaster of international cricket) missed the cut, then yes … there would have been a major public and press kerfuffle, in either case.

But with both now nailed down, a grunt or three from the pro-Hendricks lobby – he is a stylish, graceful stroke-player who looks so at ease on a productive day – should represent the gist of muted dissension, before dissipating quite quickly.

Besides, if they are still playing clever cards by then, the selectors are highly likely to have Hendricks, 29, very high on their list of standby batsmen in the event that one of the chosen group goes down injured at a tournament featuring nine guaranteed matches per side before the semi-finals come around.

If my information is correct, it truly was touch and go between Amla and Hendricks, a situation no doubt only aggravated by the continued low returns of the veteran Amla – though preoccupied by an illness in his family – for the Cape Cobras in late season.

Then again, just how much yardstick value should you place on form in an autumnal franchise T20 competition, less than welcomed by many who sensed 2018/19 overkill and is being watched only by sparse groups of fleece- and beanie-wearing diehards?

Personally, I am relieved and heartened by the decision to stick by Amla, who brings a critical sense of balance to a batting arsenal not exactly laden – this is a drum I have been banging for some time – with customers sporting weighty records in English conditions.

It is in that area that he soars into his own: in short, he has been statistically marvellous down the years for South Africa in the Green and Pleasant Land, whether in white- or red-ball combat.

Now attention turns to just how high up the pecking order he remains for starting XI purposes.

My own suspicion, albeit with game one against the very England still six weeks away at The Oval on May 30? It is that Amla may have his work cut out to front up the order with Quinton de Kock, and Markram (fuelled by a current stint on those shores with Hampshire) instead on inside lane for opening partner.

Just for one thing, the considerably younger man is vastly more nimble and error-free in the field at present, and is a part-time option with his occasional off-spin, into the bargain.

It’s a nice problem to have, though, particularly if Amla shows fruitful signs of recapturing his best poise during the prep time for the event (including non-ODI-status warm-up tussles against Sri Lanka and Windies).

Never forget that reuniting Amla with the explosive De Kock would also mark the alliance of two players who have featured in two first-wicket stands of 200-plus for the Proteas, including the seventh-highest (282) for any wicket in a 50-overs international.

The increasingly long-in-the-tooth Amla, however, may be viewed primarily right now as a “security” presence, an assuring bubbling-under figure, at what will be his own third CWC.

It is if some of the Proteas’ more naïve batsmen on UK surfaces (neither of Rassie van der Dussen or Markram have yet played an ODI there) find themselves floundering that the 36-year-old is arguably likeliest to be summoned to battle during the lengthy jamboree, with the very great hope – if that is indeed the backdrop -- that he can rewind the clock to something even remotely close to his halcyon days.

The rest of the squad?

Considering the widely-anticipated shoe-ins for a long time, perhaps I should simply toss back a question: what about it can you really say makes you incandescent with rage?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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