JOHANNESBURG – The decision by the Proteas’ brains trust to employ four strike bowlers is a risky one, but the rewards are worthwhile.
It’s that composition which has led to all the angst about the balance of the side’s starting XI, the need to find a No 7 all-rounder whose batting has to be better than solid - and getting JP Duminy back fit and firing at No 6 so he can provide an extra option with the ball, coupled with his experience with the bat.
In fact all the way up the order, and especially how aggressive the batsmen can be, is centred around those four strike bowlers - who are most likely to be Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir, for the opening World Cup match against England at The Oval on May 30.
The South African goal, as Faf Du Plessis has said previously, and Ngidi stated again on Tuesday, is to bowl the opposition out. The quartet likely to start at The Oval is certainly capable of that and has in fact shown that they are, in the past nine months.
In 17 ODIs starting with the series in Sri Lanka last year up to Sunday’s match at the Wanderers, South Africa has bowled out the opposition nine times, and on three other occasions they’ve had them nine or eight wickets down. The only time the Proteas have lost when bowling a side out inside 50 overs, was against Australia in Adelaide last November, when they failed to chase down 232.
That, was largely the fault of the batting unit, and it remains arguably the biggest concern about this strategy heading into the World Cup.
South Africa has picked just five frontline batsmen in the 14 man squad for the first three matches of this series with Sri Lanka. They are hoping Duminy gets through Thursday’s Momentum Cup match for the Cobras against the Lions before he joins the squad for the third ODI in Durban at the weekend.
They’re still looking for a back-up quick bowler - Anrich Nortje is basically on trial for that role in this series - an extra batsman (Aiden Markram or Hashim Amla) and another all-rounder for that no.7 spot (Dwaine Pretorius, Wiaan Mulder or Chris Morris).
Meanwhile they need this attacking bowling plan to work and last Sunday was a very good demonstration of what it looks like when it does.
Du Plessis highlighted the importance of Ngidi’s return, with the big quick picking up two wickets in his first spell and finishing with 3/60 in his 10 overs. Ngidi, while happy to be back in green and gold after three months on the sidelines with a knee injury, admitted he wasn’t at his best on Sunday. “I’ll take 3/60 in 10 for a first performance back from injury,” he smiled.
The 22-year-old has firmly bought into the attacking strategy with the ball that was formally implemented before the tour to Australia last year. “My role specifically has been made very clear to me; I bowl up front with the new ball and my job is to take wickets. That’s the only thing going through my head at the top my mark,” said Ngidi.
That means he could go for runs as was the case when Oshada Fernando took him, Kagiso Rabada and Nortje on at the Wanderers - hitting both Ngidi and Rabada back over their heads for sixes.
“It means we’re bowling the wrong lengths so that’s on us,” said Ngidi, “we got that wrong.”
“The main thing is to look at ourselves first before we take into account what he was doing. If we’ve missed our lengths and he’s hit us for six we have to take that on the chin. We had a plan we were trying to execute, we could have done much better against him so we’ll obviously be looking to rectify those mistakes.”
The second ODI will be played at SuperSport Park Today, starting at 1pm.
The squads are:
Faf du Plessis (capt), Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Rassie van der Dussen.
Lasith Malinga (capt), Niroshan Dikwella, Avishka Fernando, Upul Tharanga, Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Thisara Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Angelo Perera, Oshada Fernando, Kamindu Mendis, Priyamal Perera, Isuru Udana, Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan.@shockerhess