Keshav Maharaj celebrates with his Proteas teammates after taking the wicket during the test series against Sri Lanka where he picked up some record breaking figures. Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
On the face of it, South Africa’s selectors have taken a major risk with the bowling unit that has to try and rattle Sri Lanka over the course of five one-day internationals, the first of which started in Dambulla this morning.

Leaving aside the optional slow bowling from Messrs Duminy, Markram, Hendricks and Klaasen, the bulk of the bowling will be done by a very young group who don’t even have 100 ODI caps between them.

Kagiso Rabada, with 48 matches under his belt, is the most experienced member of the attack, whose two front line spinners, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj, had only played a total of nine ODIs, before today.

And that looks risky, but it may be a case of some terrific foresight from the selectors. Despite the inexperience, South Africa’s bowling is still the strength as far as the squad for the Sri Lanka series is concerned.

Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, who has just four caps to his name, are a very good new ball combination and are both extremely composed, precise operators in the death overs.

Forget for a moment Ngidi’s youth. In his short professional career he has already shown a fondness for the big stage, whether that be domestic T20 finals for his franchise, the Titans, his various international debuts or this year’s IPL final; when the lights are brightest and the stands packed, Ngidi thrives.

With Lungi Ngidi's meteoric success, it's hard to believe he is only 22 years old. Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte

The same holds true for Andile Phehlukwayo, another fine exponent at the back end of the innings with the ball (and bat too), while 20-year-old Wiaan Mulder has a point to prove as he attempts to leapfrog the injured Chris Morris into reckoning for next year’s World Cup.

One positive aspect of the otherwise dismal series against India last summer was how well South Africa performed at the death with the ball. In the three matches in which they bowled first in that series, there was improvement in that category; they allowed India 80 runs in the last 10 overs of the second ODI, but then just 59 and 55 runs respectively in the same period of the fourth and fifth ODIs.

Rabada and Morris were largely responsible for overs in those matches and while it may appear a small item, it is nevertheless a crucial part of the limited overs strategy and if the Proteas can turn it into a strength by being consistent in that department it will be a significant box ticked going into the World Cup.

Overall, South Africa’s bowling has been the most positive aspect of the side’s limited overs performances in recent times.

The Proteas have variety in terms of pace, seam and swing, while thanks to Imran Tahir they maintained a wicket-taking spin threat through the middle overs. Tahir didn’t have a good summer last season, struggling against India. But the overall arc of his career means he remains the spearhead as far as spin options are concerned and that Shamsi and Maharaj are probably competing for one spot in a 15-man World Cup squad.

Shamsi is the more attacking option and has been a consistent performer for the Titans at domestic level for a couple of seasons.

Maharaj has locked down the spinner’s spot in the Test side but there is a sense he has plenty to offer in the shorter formats and the selectors are right to give him a go over the next few months. He is probably not as a big of a wicket-taking option as Shamsi, but he is a better batsman and fielder, which may see him sneak in ahead of the wrist-spinner should South Africa ever want to play two front line spinners in England next year.

Schedule (all times SA)

Today: 1st ODI, Dambulla, 6.30am

Wednesday: 2nd ODI, Dambulla, 11am

Aug 5: 3rd ODI, Kandy, 6.30am

Aug 8: 4th ODI, Kandy 11am

Aug 12: 5th ODI, Colombo, 11am


Sunday Independent

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