Cape Town – Wiaan Mulder and Reeza Hendricks, the former inconveniently dormant and the latter unproductive again at Kingsmead on Sunday, may slowly be losing their footholds on World Cup places for South Africa.
The Proteas’ selectors will name a revised squad on Monday for the closing two one-day internationals against Sri Lanka – St George’s Park on Wednesday and Newlands on Saturday – and some batsmen, in particular, who missed the first three have presented extremely strong cases for recall for SA’s last scheduled 50-overs matches ahead of CWC 2019 which begins in May in England.
Although doubt still swirls around the absence of veteran Hashim Amla, who has also missed most recent activity for the Cape Cobras in the Momentum One-Day Cup for family-related reasons, both Aiden Markram and JP Duminy have issued deafening calls domestically for a return to the mix.
The first, 14-strong party named for the initial part of the bilateral series was noticeably top-heavy in bowling resources, a situation that was masked in Sunday’s third game at Kingsmead as the Proteas, batting first, posted a very welcome “biggie” of 331 for five and went on to win comfortably and seal the series early.
Although there were several pleasing cameos, the innings was also once again powered primarily by the red-hot Quinton de Kock at the top of the order, and it is hardly a secret that he will be a critical figure in South Africa’s sometimes fickle batting arsenal at the World Cup.
De Kock’s 14th ODI ton (121 off 108 balls) was also his first in 18 knocks in the format, though that hasn’t stopped him from being wonderfully consistent against the ‘Lankans: it was a follow-up to earlier scores in the series of 94 and 81.
Throw in the fact that he notched 83 in the last ODI of the prior series against Pakistan, and he seems in roughly the same rich vein of form as he experienced as a much younger player in December 2013, when he lashed three centuries in a row (135, 106 and 101) in a compressed home series against India.
Naturally Proteas supporters will be hoping he doesn’t develop a speed wobble -- given that form is somehow always as temporary as they say it is -- and he must still negotiate the frenetic demands of the IPL for Mumbai Indians at T20 level before heading to the UK with the national side.
Sunday’s rain-affected match, which reduced the Sri Lankan chase to a near-farce as they lost more than half of their overs and were left with an unrealistic Duckworth-Lewis mini-target after nightfall, did help stiffen the CWC claims of two all-rounders, Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius.
Phehlukwayo produced the sort of flamboyance at the back end of the Proteas’ knock that he is often renowned for, getting in some meaty blows and some of a more cleverly caressed variety, too, en route to a whirlwind 38 not out off just 15 deliveries.
Meanwhile the slightly more conservative-styled but increasingly reliable Pretorius also looked suitably constructive and composed at the crease in his innings of 31, and was parsimonious in a short bowling spell for good measure.
Those two look increasingly look the right blend, given their differing strengths, as bowling all-rounders at the World Cup, and that could spell bad news for Mulder, who wore a side-line bib on Sunday and is fast running out of opportunities – will there even be more for him now? – to produce something beyond the relatively mundane in his fledgling international career before the major event.
The other “loser” at Kingsmead was Hendricks, the only batsman among the front-liners to fail (he scored four) on the day: he has registered 34 runs from three completed innings in the series, so subsiding at a bad time.
He is one of those cricketers who can look a million dollars on a good day, as he has a few times already for the Proteas, but he has also been dismissed for single-figure scores nine times now in his 17 ODI knocks and that will be a mounting concern.
Markram is a clear and present danger to Hendricks at the top of the order -- though first the former has to actually earn that recall from selection convener Linda Zondi for the embers of this series that many in the public and press are positively baying for.
That the long-serving, fit-again Duminy will be confirmed as returning to the squad on Monday can virtually be regarded as a foregone conclusion: he was among the players on the SA balcony during the Kingsmead fixture so seems to have reported to camp, as it were.
Duminy, while not quite as prolific as Markram over the last few days, has been getting nicely back into the groove himself with successive innings as Cobras captain of 62 and 74 not out, and his off-spin contribution balances the Proteas’ line-up ideally at times.
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