It’s been said over and over again, but South Africa’s middle order needs some serious rethinking. The only problem is that there is no time to try out new combinations. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks four left-field options that could solve South Africa’s woes.
It’s been said a thousand times over the last few months: South Africa’s one-day batting order needs a boost. The 4-1 loss against Australia in the recently concluded one-day series laid bare the struggles the Proteas will face come the World Cup.
Farhaan Behardien, Rilee Rossouw and David Miller are the weak links in a hulking middle order. There is no time to try out any new combinations, so it’s unlikely that there will be any surprise inclusions in the final World Cup squad. However, let’s pretend for a second that selectors lend themselves to pragmatism instead of conventional routes of selection. Who would fill the blind spots? Here are four options.
When it comes to experience and longevity, there is no other player on the domestic circuit quite like Neil McKenzie. Despite kicking on towards 40, McKenzie is still going strong on the domestic circuit. The evergreen right-hander scored 230 runs at an average of 57.50 in the six matches he played during the one-day Cup. He has made a few steady contributions in the T20 competition, too, with 148 runs in seven games. This won’t be the wildest selection, but it will certainly be a surprise should McKenzie ever be recalled. Blooding a new and inexperienced player probably isn’t the way to go when it comes to a World Cup, so selecting a player who has been there and done that makes sense.
Like McKenzie, Justin Ontong comes with a wealth of experience. Ontong’s international career never quite took off in the way many hoped, but he comes with a wealth of cricketing and leadership experience. He’s had a rough time in the domestic T20 competition, but a few late blitzes in the one-day Cup saw the Cobras seal the top spot in the 50-over competition before it took a break. Ontong would be a left-field selection, but when it comes to searching for experience, he has it all.
Morne van Wyk
Morne van Wyk is another player who comes with buckets of experience. He’s not had a great time in the T20 competition, but was in stellar form during the five games he played in the one-day Cup. With 353 runs at an average of 175.50, including two hundreds, Van Wyk has suggested he’s still holding out hope for a late call-up. Should he revive some of his 50 overs competition form before the World Cup squad selection is due, South Africa could do worse than picking him. However, it would be one of the more pragmatic choices they have made in recent years. Van Wyk has played a few ODIs for South Africa, and scored 331 runs in 13 matches, including three fifties in a see-saw international career that spanned from 2003 to 2011. When it comes to hard-hitting, no-holds-barred attack, Van Wyk is one of the best.
Rilee Rossouw’s teammate Reeza Hendricks probably should have got the call-up first, but things didn’t quite work out that way. While Rossouw was flailing about in international colours, Hendricks was waiting patiently. He made his debut in the T20 series in Australia and by the time he played his third match, he played the kind of innings that proved that he was one of South Africa’s future stars. He’s played just four games in this season’s T20 competition and batted just twice, scoring an unbeaten 76 after returning from international duty. He had a decent few outings during the one-day Cup, too. As the Knights struggled for any positives, Hendricks was the lone ranger, and managed 248 runs at an average of 49.60, including a top score of 181. It would be a brave call to include him, but many rate Hendricks far more highly than teammate Rossouw.
It cannot be denied that South Africa have a number of weaknesses in their batting and bowling line-up. It’s easy to find fault and criticise, but far more difficult to find players to replace those who are struggling. Most concerning for South Africa is the cock-eyed scheduling of their summer fixtures. With the deadline for World Cup squads in early January, the scheduling of the one-day competition makes absolutely no sense. It started off the season with a bang and is now on a break until after the World Cup squad announcement is due. That means that World Cup hopefuls had, at the most, six games to try to stake a claim, but would not be given a further opportunity to prove their worth or be tested in an international outing. The one-day series against the West Indies also only begins five days after the World Cup squads should be announced – once again thanks to a convoluted schedule. The T20s against the men from the Caribbean will be played before the one-day matches, meaning that there is no time to try out anything different before the World Cup.
It leaves selectors with precious little option but to go for those who have been tried, tested and have failed in recent ODI outings. An injury to any of South Africa’s batting top four could spell complete disaster, owing to failure to plan adequately in terms of scheduling. The abovementioned names will, therefore, be a left-field solution to a fairly straight-forward problem. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Justin Ontong hits a shot watched by New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum in the first of their three-match Twenty20 cricket series in Wellington, February 17, 2012 REUTERS/Anthony Phelps