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Balancing South Africa’s batting powerhouse

Balancing South Africa’s batting powerhouse

South Africa finished their tour of New Zealand with a 2-0 win after the third and final ODI was rained off. The Proteas’ top order is as settled as they’ll ever be, but the lower order still raises some questions and there is little time to fiddle before the World Cup rolls around. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

On Friday, in the second one-day international against New Zealand, South Africa made a surprising decision. They dropped Ryan McLaren in favour of David Miller. The move, both McLaren and captain AB de Villiers explained, was to make sure they tested yet another possible combination ahead of the World Cup. The number seven position currently belongs to McLaren and it’s the spot in the team that is causing the most debate and, perhaps, concern.

While South Africa won the match in the end, harsh analysis will deem the experiment a failure. That’s mostly because neither David Miller nor Rilee Rossouw managed a score of significance. Despite both showing promise at domestic level, that promise is yet to materialise.

South Africa persisted with Rossouw in the third and final one-day international, dropping Faf du Plessis in his place. Once again, both Rossouw and Miller failed in the rained-off match. If the purpose of the trip to New Zealand was to find some balance, that has certainly happened. What South Africa knows for sure is that their top order is settled.

At the top of the order are the hulking figures of Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers. Since the start of this year (final ODI vs NZ excluded), the majority of South Africa’s runs in limited overs cricket have been scored by these four men. That is, of course, only natural. Together, they have accumulated 2,476 runs. All of them, aside from De Kock, have averaged 65.00 or more in the same time period.

Stability and consistency in the top order is the stuff winning teams are made of and South Africa have underscored their top order’s strength by rarely losing more than four wickets in their batting innings this year. In seven out of their 13 ODIs played this year, they have lost five or fewer wickets in a batting innings. On just four occasions, they have been all out and on two of those occasions, they won.

It’s no surprise, then, that the likes of David Miller and Ryan McLaren aren’t notching up the runs; they haven’t really needed to. However, playing weaker batsmen, especially those considered to be specialists, is not a long-term solution: injuries happen in pro sport and when they do, the Proteas will have to think quickly.

Miller has not really lived up to expectations and Rilee Rossouw is not looking comfortable at international level. Both are in the squad for the series against Australia that follows the New Zealand leg of the tour, and then it’s only South Africa’s home series left. That series is almost irrelevant, though, as the deadline for submitting squads for the 2015 Cricket World Cup is 10 January. That deadline can still be extended, but as it stands, the trip to Australia is South Africa’s last chance to make a call on some of their players.

The one-day games of the incoming tour against the West Indies are only scheduled to begin in late January and while there is currently uncertainty around the tour, Haroon Lorgat said on Friday that he is confident it will go ahead. But it won’t serve much purpose in terms of World Cup selection.

The domestic one-day competition also only resumes late in January, so there is little room to manoeuvre in terms of making changes. As it stands, South Africa might just have to gamble with the players they have. While a number of players, like Morne van Wyk and Andrew Puttick, have all been outstanding domestically this season, that means little with the current schedule.

South Africa’s selectors have never really been known for their pragmatism, so it will be up to the powerhouse top order to carry the team tour the World Cup. Based on their recent efforts, South Africa does not have anything to worry about, especially when keeping in mind the bowling line-up they have.

There is, of course, the opportunity to make a few changes to the one-day team due to play against Australia. The first match is not until 14 November and, if South Africa wants to be bold and brave in testing some new combos, trying out a few of their veteran players won’t go amiss. DM

Photo: South Afirca’s AB de Villiers (L) and Hashim Amla (R) together during the ICC World Cup cricket match, Netherlands v South Africa, at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium, in Mohali, India, 03 March 2011. EPA/HARISH TYAGI

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