South Africa’s Champions Trophy casualty list continued to mount as Morné Morkel was ruled out of the competition with a grade one tear to his quad muscle on Friday. Chris Morris has been named as his replacement and will link up with the squad before their second match against Pakistan on Monday, but it leaves the Proteas in a bit of a pickle.
With Dale Steyn nursing a side strain, South Africa’s bowling is lacking in seniority. The bowlers looked out of their depth against India on Thursday with Lonwabo Tsotsobe struggling to hit his lengths and frustration getting the better of him far too often. Similarly, Rory Kleinveldt looked a fraction of the bowler who was so effective in the domestic season. The two were distinctly short on match fitness, understandable after an off season. But that seemingly little work was done with the duo ahead of a major tournament is concerning. There is no magic formula for getting into shape and getting plans right, but if the Proteas are hoping to spare themselves the embarrassment of an early tournament exit, they’ll have to think and act fast.
On Monday, South Africa take on a Pakistan side whose batsmen are not to be underestimated. While their fragile top order was exposed at the Oval against the West Indies on Friday, Edgbaston has looked far flatter than any of the other decks in the competition. Lacking a Plan B, which was seemingly the issue against India, will lead South Africa down the long road home.
Morris isn’t exactly the most experienced player of the lot. With just 32 List A caps under his belt, he’s still a rookie in most aspects. Wayne Parnell was originally on standby, but Morris pipped the left-armer to the gig because he is match fit following a long stint in the recent Indian Premier League. Morris picked up 15 wickets in 16 matches at a respectable average of 26.73 and although he’s uncapped for South Africa in the one-day format, he enjoyed a reasonably profitable domestic season in 2012-13, taking eight wickets in nine games at an average of 27.50.
Morris also offers something a little bit extra with the bat and has earned himself something of a reputation as a lower order pinch-hitter. He hit an unbeaten 49 off 25 for his local franchise, the Lions, in a match against the Cobras last year and although the Western Province franchise won the match easily, Morris’s contribution was vital down the order. He has batted up the order before, too, and although South Africa aren’t short on batsmen, an extra boost wouldn’t go amiss if the bowlers are out of sorts.
The exclusion of Vernon Philander from the one-day set-up has baffled many, but Philander has never really formed part of South Africa’s one-day plans. He is far more suited to Test cricket and, with Philander being so injury prone, he’s unlikely to be risked.
Many have been vehemently outspoken about the Ravensmead Wrecker’s exclusion, though, and heavily critical of Tsotsobe’s place in the side. Former South African Test cricketer Pat Symcox said Tsotsobe should not have been in the side in the first place.
“I feel Philander should have been there. I believe he could have been an important weapon in the bowling line-up, especially with conditions suitable to swing bowling,” Symcox told the Beeld.
“I honestly don’t believe Lonwabo Tsotsobe deserves his place. If they didn’t want to take Philander, then Chris Morris or Kyle Abbott should have gone. If you don’t have the best team there you can’t expect to get the best results. And with Tsotsobe there, I don’t believe we are playing with our best team.”
Symcox will, of course, now get his wish as Morris has been called up to the side and has a chance to prove his worth, but he still believes Philander should have earned the call ahead of Tstotsobe because of his adaptability in swinging conditions and his aptitude with the bat.
“Why I also feel Philander should have been there rather than Tsotsobe is because of Philander’s ability to contribute with the bat at the end of the innings. Tsotsobe has no role to play with the bat,” Symcox added.
Philander has played just eight ODI caps for South Africa, taking seven wickets in those games at an average of 35.42. Those aren’t exactly remarkable figures, especially considering he went wicketless in five of the one-day games he played. The debate will continue to rage, though, and many a critic might yet get their wish of seeing Philander return to one-day colours if Steyn can’t shake off his side strain soon enough. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Morne Morkel reacts while bowling against Australia during the first test cricket match at the Gabba in Brisbane November 12, 2012. REUTERS/Aman Sharma
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