JOHANNESBURG – Are the Proteas in danger of overthinking their One-Day team, and who must play and how they must play?
All this experimenting and tinkering is most unusual for a side just four months away from a World Cup. Most South African sides of the past have known who will be playing and what they are about. However the 2019 version is still trying to see who and what works best.
Before the three-match series in Australia last November, Faf du Plessis was very happy about the composition of his starting XI - which for that series was missing Hashim Amla and JP Duminy. But most importantly, was the presence of the four wicket-taking bowlers - the three seamers; Lungi Ngidi, Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada alongside leg-spinner Imran Tahir.
What they were looking for at that point was a no.3 batsman and an all-rounder, whose batting had to be marginally better than his bowling, to fill the no.7 position.
Here we are in January however and that no.3 spot still seems to be up for grabs, the no.7 position is yet to be cemented by anyone, and if one of the three seamers are absent - as Ngidi has been - then Du Plessis believes the balance of his side needs to change.
“What is very clear for me, is that when you have an attack of Ngidi, Rabada, Steyn, the option to play six batters is there. But if one of them is missing. It’s pretty obvious for me you need another batsmen or all-rounder in the top seven.”
South Africa have used Dane Paterson and Beuran Hendricks in this series with Pakistan, ostensibly said Du Plessis last week, to try and find a back-up seam bowler for the 15-man World Cup squad.
What has happened however is that neither of those is in the class of Ngidi which means South Africa can’t trust the ‘six batsmen’ strategy it wants to employ, especially when the all-rounder at 7, Andile Phehlukwayo is extremely inconsistent with that bat.
In addition, while Duminy completes his rehab, the selectors have also been on the look-out for an additional middle order batsmen, but that’s been extremely hard to find.
Last year in Sri Lanka already following a discussion with Gibson, Du Plessis moved himself down one spot in the order from 3 to 4, which has necessitated him changing the way he plays.
Since the Sri Lanka tour Du Plessis has batted at no.4 nine times, and scored 393 runs at an average of 56.14, which suggests that he’s acclimatising reasonably well. Duminy’s return will certainly help and a middle order of Du Plessis, David Miller and Duminy is a solid and very experienced one.
At no.3 however it’s still all up for grabs between Reeza Hendricks, Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram. The latter is yet to feature against Pakistan. “It’s tough,” Du Plessis admitted, “Rassie’s done very well and taken some of Aiden’s chances away. We will look at the possibility of giving (Markram) a game in Cape Town.”
“It looks more at the moment that there is a spot at no.3, because most of the personnel that we are assessing and who are competing for that position are 1, 2, 3 position players and its harder to go down than the other way around,” Du Plessis added.
What is becoming clear is that South Africa need to settle on a player in that spot soon, to give everyone some peace of mind.
They need to do that while keeping in mind that they also need to win this series against Pakistan, to provide everyone; players, coaches and selectors with some breathing room and confidence.@shockerhess