JOHANNESBURG – In just under a week's time South Africa's cricket selectors will name the team to do duty in the Cricket World Cup, and a great deal of speculation has been doing the rounds on just who will make the eventual 15-man squad
The squad will be announced at Cricket South Africa's offices in Johannesburg on Friday, April 18, and while there is speculation from all corners of the cricketing fraternity - one voice tends to stand out. That is former SA cricket coach Ray Jennings who took charge of the national teams through various age groups including the senior team.
Jennings, wouldn’t have David Miller in his starting line-up for the Proteas opening World Cup encounter in a day game against England at the Oval on 30 May.
Neither would he have either all-rounder, Andile Phehlukwayo or Dwaine Pretorius in his side, preferring to bat deep and allow the fifth bowler duties to be shared by JP Duminy, Aiden Markram and Reeza Hendricks if necessary.
“I’ve been watching Miller in the IPL,” said Jennings. “And I don’t think he’s moved his cricket forward enough.
“As far as the all-rounders are concerned [Phehlukwayo and Pretorius] they can’t win you a game with the bat and they can’t win you a game with the ball. I’d rather go with the extra batsman.”
At the top of the order, Jennings would go with Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla, with Markram slotting in at three. He concedes that Amla is a liability in the field but is prepared to make an exception given his pedigree and experience.
He says, though, that he is surprised that Amla is currently playing domestic T20 cricket at the moment. “I understand that his dad isn’t well but he should have gone to England to play 50-over cricket for a county,” says Jennings. “He’s been struggling with form, so I would get him into the English season.”
After the top three Jennings would follow with Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen and JP Duminy at four, five and six.
The position at seven is clearly vexed because after originally saying he wouldn’t find a place for Miller he changes his mind and grudgingly says that he might just be able to find a place for him, although he could also find a place for Hendricks, although this would mean the Lions batsman batting out of position.
“They say that bowlers win you tournaments while batsmen win you matches, so with the bowlers, I would go with KG Rabada, Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir as my frontline bowlers. I think that gives you a potent attack.
“We do need to find ten overs from somewhere.”
Jennings says that a competitive advantage can be found in the fielding, and while he is wary of Amla’s poor arm and his poor catching record of late, he would do his best with him in a close-catching position.
“If we can produce the fielding goods and be the best fielding team in the World Cup – I think that can take us into the semifinals,” he says.
One of the better fielders in domestic cricket is Markram and Jennings would have no hesitation in taking him to England.
He plucked Markram literally off the beach to come to an SA Under-19 camp in early 2013 and eventually made him the captain of the Under-19 side who won the World Cup in the UAE in early 2014.
“I like the way he thinks about the game, how he learns and listens,” Jennings said of Markram, adding his voice to that of Markram’s coach at the Titans, Mark Boucher, who said recently that it was a no-brainer that he be picked for the World Cup squad.
As far as the comparative lack of expectation for the Proteas in this tournament was concerned, Jennings said that he feels it could be liberating. “It allows the players to play natural – to play their natural game – because they’re feeling in their own heart that they’re not going to win it. That means they can go out and play.”
In this respect, Jennings likens this tournament – where everyone plays everyone else in a protracted round-robin phase – to the tournament in 1992 in Australasia. In that tournament, South Africa’s first since re-admission, Kepler Wessels’ men started with a bang by beating Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
They then stuttered slightly with losses to New Zealand and Sri Lanka before regaining some semblance of momentum with good wins against West Indies and Pakistan.
Jennings certainly says the tournament won’t be plain sailing.
“Things are going to go wrong in the tournament. In England, talk is of the pitches being sporty in the last couple of years and it’s early in the summer. The pitches might dry out as the tournament progresses if it’s a hope summer.”
Fasten your seatbelts. Protea fans are going to be in for one of a helluva ride.