In-and-out Reeza warrants fulsome tick now for Proteas

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Reeza Hendricks
Reeza Hendricks
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  • Reeza Hendricks seldom failed in tricky Durban conditions, and only got better for the Lions towards the hectic tourney's business end.
  • He looks a shoo-in now for the Proteas at the T20 World Cup as a top-of-the-order specialist.
  • The claims of a potential rival candidate like Aiden Markram rather fizzled during the Kingsmead event.

For several years and despite the abundant, so easy-on-the-eye talent he reveals when on song, many people have struggled to know how just how highly - or otherwise - to rate Reeza Hendricks.

Include the national selectors in that quandary: the right-handed batsman's international career (not yet including any Test matches, though there is a lobby advocating that) has been characterised by relative indecision on the part of the wise men.

Yes, that has sometimes been of his own doing, given periods of relatively low statistical returns and other attractive candidates hovering around him, but the fact remains that the 31-year-old has been a stop-start sort of figure over the course of 49 Proteas white-ball international caps stretching back to 2014.

Suddenly, though, there is a good case for arguing that Hendricks, fresh off playing a pivotal part in the Lions' lifting of the CSA T20 Challenge trophy in Durban, looks more secure for South African purposes than ever before … at least regarding his role in the shortest of the major formats.

It is a handy time for that observation to come into play, given that only some seven or eight months remain until the Proteas' presence in the ICC T20 World Cup on Indian pitches.

There will be a relatively tight, general squeeze for places in the (probably) 15-strong squad, but Hendricks may well have done quite enough already at this point to justify a ticket.

The "front-end loaders", if you like, in the South African batting department look increasingly like being two from three candidates in the party: Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma and Hendricks.

One of them would potentially, then, represent the "spare" opener … although you could also make a strong case for submitting that all of the trio featuring in the starting XI, as a top three, is a viable option.

The passage is clearing for those Highveld-based favourites to be the top-of-the-order factors, a situation made easier by the fact that enigmatic Aiden Markram, while one of the cleanest, longest and most lethal strikers around when his planets are aligned, had a relatively poor T20 Challenge - almost certainly blowing the Test opener's last chance to press for a place in the squad ahead of the World Cup now, unless injuries were to open a fresh door.

Markram only managed 57 runs from five innings for the Titans, with a top score of 31 and average of 11.40.

Janneman Malan? He was inconveniently injured for the duration of the Cape Cobras' stuttering campaign and badly missed as a fast starter to the innings.

But despite coming to light in at least one knock during the recent T20 international series in Pakistan - 44 at a strike rate of over 150 in the first clash at Lahore - this five-cap player arguably stays lurking on the fringe rather than the front line for World Cup selection later in the year.

That is especially because he is still less proven against quality spin than he is pace bowling, and with the tournament on the subcontinent he may just miss the boat on that basis: the 24-year-old will be fervently hoping for further Proteas exposure in the lead-up months to stiffen up his chances.

Hendricks, by contrast, may be a little less naturally explosive in the first couple of overs than someone like Malan, but he is on a run of consistently eye-catching T20 form statistically.

The best statement he could make for ensuring an onward nod in Proteas plans was to end as top run scorer in the T20 Challenge: 257 at an average of nearly 37, with only his Lions teammate and captain Bavuma also getting past the 200-mark in sluggish Kingsmead pitch conditions that were routinely trying for batsmen.

As you might wish for anyway in an early-thirtysomething customer, Hendricks looked a bastion of maturity and common sense during the tournament, only scoring 30 runs or fewer on two occasions in his seven personal knocks.

His strike rate of 118 may not look so blistering at first glance, but in the context of the surfaces on offer, it was worth the weight of a figure of 135 or so on more orthodox, reliably-paced tracks.

Hendricks showed great mental resolve and stamina, too, in making significant runs on each of the tough three days on the trot the Lions had to feature in at the business end of the tournament: 75 against the Cobras on the Friday, 32 against the Warriors in the Saturday "semi-final" and a further 39 in the low-scoring showpiece on Sunday.

Apart from looking accomplished with his stroke-play all around the wicket much of the time, and against all bowling comers, he reminded of the heydays of players like Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis with his relish and ability to drive powerfully on an "inside out" basis on the off side.

Add in that two of the soft-spoken, Kimberley-born player's innings in the recent three-game Pakistan series were scores of above 40 (including one half-century), and a pattern of regular effectiveness is refreshingly apparent.

It could be a while before Reeza Raphael Hendricks becomes a national yo-yo man again.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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