JOHANNESBURG – The majority of the most pressing questions about the composition of South Africa’s World Cup squad were answered over the course of the past summer.
How many seam bowling all-rounders are needed? Just two.
Back-up wicketkeeper? No need - David Miller will have to do.
Two spinners? Yes.
Who will open the batting, bat in the middle and be the back-up batsmen? Sorted ... for the most part.
Skipper Faf du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson believe the World Cup squad is “99.9 percent” settled.
So, what’s the 0.01 percent that still needs clarification?
Essentially that comes down to fitting two out of Hashim Amla, Reeza Hendricks and Aiden Markram into the 15-man squad.
At 1pm today, we’ll find out how Du Plessis, Gibson, along with selection convenor Linda Zondi and the remainder of the panel, answered that question.
There are pros and cons for each of that trio.
Amla hasn’t really dominated lately, and his fielding has also been very poor; Markram’s been magnificent at domestic level, but has failed to make an impression for the Proteas; Hendricks didn’t back up that fabulous century on debut with another innings of similar control.
Zondi and Co are most likely to go with Amla’s experience and quiet authority. His leadership credentials are crucial for what will potentially be a long six weeks for the Proteas. Given his class and experience, the selectors will understandably believe that Amla will rekindle the kind of form that made him such a dominant player in the ODI format.
So, who then between Hendricks and Markram? The latter is potentially more dominant, as he has shown on a number of occasions domestically. He is also mentally very strong. The fact that two of his five domestic hundreds have come in finals, and a third when his side, the Titans, were 31/5, further illustrates Markram’s mental fortitude. He has had problems against spinners, however, and those weaknesses will be scrutinised by opponents in England.
Hendricks’s most impressive performance in Proteas colours was in Sri Lanka, with as an assured display as one could hope for from a debutant. After his Lions teammate, Rassie van der Dussen, he has arguably been the form player domestically across all formats over the last two seasons. But a bit like Markram - and unlike Van der Dussen - he’s not made a compelling case for a World Cup spot.
The pair were squared off in what Du Plessis termed a “shootout” when South Africa played three ODIs in Australia last November. Hendricks (with a strike-rate of 53.54) playing as an opener scored 68 runs in three innings, Markram scored 87 with a strike-rate of 95.60.
Somebody will be disappointed this afternoon.
Of course, as Zondi’s counterpart in England Ed Smith showed yesterday when naming the England’s squad, changes can still be made, up until a week before South Africa plays the opening match of the tournament against the hosts.
So, watch this space, maybe.@ZaahierAdams