Proteas all-rounder race: Advantage Phehlukwayo
Did you know that Andile Phehlukwayo is just 23? In fact, his birthday was in March.
But every time he takes to a cricket field, his maturity belies his youth, and it proved so yet again on Friday in Cardiff.
Phehlukwayo came in to bat with the Proteas just teetering slightly at 228/5 in the 36th over in their World Cup warm-up game against Sri Lanka.
Having been 175/1 in the 24th over, it was a dramatic shift in the game as the South Africans lost four wickets for just 53 runs.
There was a real danger that the innings could collapse completely, after Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis had done the hard yards with entertaining half-centuries to set up a big score.
But Phehlukwayo steadied the ship, first with JP Duminy and then Dewald Pretorius, as he compiled a solid 35 off 34 balls (3x4, 1x6) in helping the Proteas reach 338/7.
He made an even greater impact with the ball. With Sri Lanka having recovered to 72/2 after Lungi Ngidi struck with two early wickets, Phehlukwayo broke the third-wicket partnership by dismissing Kusal Mendis lbw for 37.
He bowled with good variety and kept things tight on off-stump, bowling just back of a length, and he ended up with 4/36 in seven overs to win the Man-of-the-Match award in the unofficial ODI.
His rivals for the all-rounder berths, Dwaine Pretorius and Chris Morris, had less successful days. Both men did well with the bat, Pretorius with 25 not out off 23 balls and Morris slapping a few around the ground for an unbeaten 26 off 13.
But their bowling let them down. Morris in particular was found wanting as he again bowled too short, and he was easily put away by Dimuth Karunaratne to concede 31 runs in four overs.
Pretorius wasn’t much of a factor either, claiming 1/34 in five overs.
So, it’s certainly advantage Phehlukwayo in the race for that No 7 spot for the World Cup opener against England next Thursday.
“Personally, I think today was a better bowling performance. It was pretty difficult. I think the wicket had something there throughout the 100 overs – if you put the ball in the right area, you had reward,” the Dolphins star said in the post-match TV interview.
“But I think it was a good outing for both teams, and especially for us. I think we got out of the game what we needed, and hopefully we can take it into the tournament.
“(My role as a batsman) is whatever the situation calls for me to do on the day. Personally, I like to move the game forward, put my team in a better position.
“And if we are chasing, then dig deep and bat long, and stay in the game for as long as possible and try to win the game for the team.
“I will probably find myself in that position quite a lot, and I need to embrace it and take it on myself, and I’m enjoying it at the moment.
“I tried to keep it simple – hit the top of off, keeping it across the seam.”
That last sentence was probably the stand-out feature of Phehlukwayo’s bowling, and it was something his older teammates in Morris and Pretorius were unable to grasp.
The Proteas complete their World Cup preparations with a second warm-up game against the West Indies in Bristol on Sunday (11.30am SA time).@ashfakmohamed