While South Africa’s Cricket World Cup squad might seem dull, selectors have at least shown some sort of forward-thinking with the T20 side. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
With all the hullabaloo of the Cricket World Cup squad selection, you would be forgiven for completely forgetting there is still a T20 and an ODI series to be played on home soil before the South Africans pack up and leave for down under.
The merits of playing a T20 series before a 50-over tournament remain debatable, but the squad for the little hit and giggle sojourn at least reflects some sort of forward-looking. The most notable inclusion in the team is that of Morne van Wyk as wicketkeeper.
Van Wyk, who was part of South Africa’s 2011 World Cup squad, had a superb run with the bat in the domestic one-day competition last year. Two big hundreds took his average to an eye-popping 176.50 after five matches and although he had limited success in the T20 competition (138 runs in 10 matches at an average of 13.80) he brings with him a wealth of experience. Over 200 caps in the domestic one-day games and almost 100 T20 caps is nothing to be scoffed at.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the World Cup squad selection, it’s that South Africa are still short on reliable back up keepers. There is no doubt that Quinton de Kock is the future, but who is behind him? South Africa have had the luxury of AB de Villiers serving a dual role of keeper, but with the one-day skipper reluctant to keep in the shorter formats, a back up plan needs to be put into place. In the short-term, that’s where Van Wyk comes in.
South Africa took a gamble on De Kock’s fitness for the World Cup, including him despite his still being injured. It means that even if he recovers in time, De Kock will have very little to no game time before stepping out to play in the World Cup.
This risk speaks volumes on just how much trust South Africa have in their young gloveman. His partnership with Hashim Amla at the top of the order is already South Africa’s fourth most successful in the format in the last five years. Together, they have amassed 1,523 runs in 29 innings, at an average of 52.51. They have the highest average of all opening partnerships in the same time period and have scored the second most runs, behind Sri Lanka’s Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga with 2,773 runs in 66 innings.
But this T20 series is not about them. Amid the players in the squad who are going to the World Cup, there are also some exciting faces. Players like Kagiso Rabada, Reeza Hendricks, David Wiese and the back-from-injury Marchant de Lange are being given an opportunity to stake a claim for a bit part in next year’s World T20. That might seem like a long way off now, but South Africa have just 13 T20s (including the three against the Windies) to fine-tune their side.
With the possibility of players such as Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel calling time on their limited overs careers after the World Cup, blooding youngsters is a critical part of South Africa’s forward planning. Rabada is only in his first season as a franchise cricketer, but has shown enough promise to justify being fast-tracked, especially in the limited overs format. With the ability to hit the 140km/h mark, he has all the makings of a future star and easing him into the pressures of international cricket with T20 berths is ideal.
From a batting perspective, Hendricks has been knocking on the selection door for quite some time. The Knights batsman finished the domestic T20 competition as the third-highest run scorer, with 295 runs at an average of 59.00. He had a similar showing last season, with 317 runs at an average of 45.28.
Wiese, too, despite his unremarkable season, has the makings of being a niche T20 player. As T20 continues to evolve and the demands of international schedules (yes, even on South Africa) continue taking its toll, it’s far more likely that teams will start relying on the ‘specialist’ type player. The T20 format is tailor-made for experimentation and picking players on a ‘moneyball’ principle, which is exactly what Wiese and Hendricks are.
It is also not entirely inconceivable that, in a few years, T20 sides will exist almost completely separately to ODI and Test teams, with separate management staff and an almost entirely separate squad.
If the performances in Australia’s current Big Bash is anything to go by, then that is certainly where the game is moving. Some of the most memorable performances have come from players who aren’t even close to their team’s 50-over World Cup side, including Ben Stokes, Michael Carberry and Michael Lumb.
South Africa’s T20 rookies will test their skill against some of the best in the world in a three-match T20 series against the West Indies, but that can only be a good thing. The only way to get smarter is by playing the smarter opponent, after all. DM
Photo: South African batsman Morne van Wyk (R) being clean bowled during the Group B match 34 between South Africa and Ireland for The Cricket World Cup 2011 tournament at The Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Eastern Indian city of Calcutta, India, on 15 March 2010. EPA/PIYAL ADHIKARY