JOHANNESBURG – Pick a South African World Cup squad. It’s been the fun game for cricket lovers over the last few weeks.
Name your 15 - not 19 like one chap from a magazine tried to do. How many batsmen? Do you need three or four seam bowling all-rounders? Do you need a back-up wicket-keeper? Two spinners or one?
Last May looking ahead to the World Cup with one year to go, I named a starting team for the opening match of the tournament against England. At the time I had Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander and Heinrich Klaasen in my XI. There was no Dale Steyn, no Rassie van der Dussen, no Reeza Hendricks and no Aiden Markram.
I can’t include Philander now, because of the doubts over his fitness. He’d be another liability in the field, and South Africa’s fielding despite showing signs of improvement in the limited overs series’ against Sri Lanka remains a concern going into the World Cup.
It’s among the reasons I can’t include Amla. His fielding has been very poor this summer. He’s not the fastest nor does he have the strongest arm, so would need to be ‘hidden’ in the field, and with the likes of Lungi Ngidi (slow) and Imran Tahir (erratic), South Africa can’t be ‘hiding’ too many more in the field.
Amla in his last 10 ODIs averages 41.66. His average in the World Cup (across two tournaments) is 42.60, but how impactful has Amla been in the World Cup? He played in three knockout matches at those World Cup tournaments - and his highest score was 16. In the other knockout match, the 2013 semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy against England, he scored 1.
In a ‘virtual knockout’ match - a final group game against India in the Champions Trophy in 2017 - Amla made 35. South Africa lost. Amla has not done enough when it has really mattered in tournaments.
Reeza Hendricks may not have stamped his authority, but he has shown sufficient form to justify a spot, also he’s a better fielder than Amla. Markram would be my back up batsman, even though he has developed a habit of getting out when set - overall he provides a more rounded package than Amla; he is better in the field, and he provides an option with the ball.
I’ve picked Chris Morris because of a ‘gut feel’. I like the balance he provides. I’m not a fan of the term ‘he brings an x-factor’ because that provides an excuse when a player has a bad day. Morris’ problem is that the difference between his good day and his bad day is so vast it makes him unreliable - Wayne Parnell had the same problem.
And yet here I am doing what the selectors did with Parnell in 2015, backing Morris’ ‘X-factor’. If he is picked - which given the teams selected for the Sri Lanka series seems highly unlikely - I don’t expect Morris would play every game. I’d have him instead of Anrich Nortje however. He does the same thing as Nortje - bowls fast - but he is a better fielder, is a good ‘death’ bowler and his batting would add depth.
I’m putting emphasis on fielding because it demands particular focus. It’s one of the reasons I fretted over taking Keshav Maharaj ahead of Tabraiz Shamsi. I have stuck with the left-arm wrist-spinner and Shamsi has to improve his fielding.
Here is my World Cup squad:
Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (capt), Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, JP Duminy, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi, Dale Steyn, Dwaine Pretorius, Chris Morris, Tabraiz Shamsi.@shockerhess