Since Ottis Gibson’s appointment as national cricket coach a little less than a year ago, the selection of the Proteas’ limited overs sides has been conducted with the World Cup in mind. He needed to look at players he wasn’t familiar with and the selection panel needed to establish exactly which players and what team structure might work in England next year.
AB de Villiers’ international retirement threw a major spanner in the works, but the series in Sri Lanka which ends at the Premadasa Stadium today (11am SA time start), has largely been a success and helped to allay concerns that De Villiers’ absence would be catastrophic as far as South Africa’s challenge in England next year is concerned.
It’s still a huge hole to try and fill, but South Africa have had to be pragmatic. The shift of Faf du Plessis to the No4 batting spot is the move they’ve made as far as taking De Villiers’ old position is concerned, while throwing in a rookie at No3.
In the case of Aiden Markram, his struggles in Sri Lanka across all formats opened the door for Reeza Hendricks who’s bought himself some time in that position with a century on debut.
Du Plessis, who arrived back in South Africa on Friday, implied that there will be more tinkering over the course of series’ at home against Zimbabwe and then the three matches in Australia in November.
In the case of the batting it’s very much a case of seeing if Hendricks can sustain his good start, while Markram will hope conditions less favourable to spin may open the door for a return to the team for him. Whatever the personnel, the selectors, Du Plessis and Gibson, want something approaching the 15-man World Cup squad to be in action for the two home series, comprising 10 matches, against Pakistan and Sri Lanka early in the new year.
The batting is probably more of a concern than the bowling, mainly because the latter has so many options. The selectors must hope that Hashim Amla will rekindle something approaching his best form ahead of the World Cup just to provide them with some confidence that it will be okay to continue with a rookie at No3, while that No3, whoever it is, needs to build his own confidence through the season so as to provide some peace of mind heading to England.
The bowling issues fall into the category of “nice headaches to have”. There are lots of options from the seam bowling all-rounders to the outright fast bowlers.
Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi have been outstanding in Sri Lanka, and Du Plessis highlighted how Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn remain in the selectors’ thoughts, while Chris Morris provides an extra option as an all-rounder.
The two youngsters who’ve played in Sri Lanka, Wiaan Mulder and Andile Phehlukwayo, have equipped themselves very well, taking lessons from poor starts, and showing improvement the more opportunities they’ve been given.
Gibson has joked he’d take as many (seam bowling) all-rounders as possible to England next year and for the sake of the balance of any potential starting XI, having so many options at their disposal must be very pleasing for the selectors.
Depending on his fitness, Morris will hope he’ll be given an opportunity against Zimbabwe and Australia and the same could be said of Philander, who despite all the talk of him being in contention for the World Cup hasn’t actually played an ODI in nearly three years.
The Sri Lankan series has at least allowed SA to continue their World Cup preparation off a positive base, something not possible after they were thumped by India at the start of the year.