Vernon Philander is likely to have to sit out against both the West Indies and Ireland after picking up a hamstring injury against India over the weekend. This adds a whole new dimension to the already layered selection conundrum South Africa is facing. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
South Africa will have to find a way to get through their next two group matches without the services of Vernon Philander, who is likely to sit out for at least two matches with a hamstring injury.
Philander bowled just four overs during South Africa’s 130-run humiliation against India over the weekend, thanks to a dodgy hamstring. He sustained a grade one hamstring strain and will most likely, at the very least, miss the matches against West Indies and Ireland. This throws South Africa’s group stage challenge into disarray.
Philander’s role in the bowling attack is crucial. Since his return to cricket in colourful clothing, Philander has been impressive. His ordinary line and length has paid its dividends. Since he became a regular member of the one-day side back in 2013, he has taken 30 wickets at an average of 19.33 in 18 matches. His nagging consistency has seen him maintain an average economy rate of 4.50. That ability to build pressure and consistently take wickets was clearly missing from South Africa’s attack on Sunday. Although his lieutenants did a fine job in restricting India early on, they simply could not force any mistakes.
South Africa can opt to call for a replacement from their own shores, but that would mean Philander has no further part in the rest of the tournament. While he heals, they will have to pick from the squad they selected for the tournament. Oh, what they would not give for a fit and firing Lonwabo Tsotsobe! Instead, they have to decide between Kyle Abbott or Wayne Parnell. Neither have been overly impressive in limited overs lately, and picking between the two currently seems like deciding whether you want to be hit in the face with a club hammer or a brick. Neither option is particularly enticing.
For all his failings in the last outing against India, though, Parnell seems the better option. Not only is his left-arm variety something different, he also has more pace than Abbott. Parnell is also statistically better than Abbott. The latter made his ODI debut in 2013 and since then, he has managed just seven wickets at an average of 56.00 in the format (11 matches in total). Parnell has played 19 games in the same time period and has managed 28 wickets at an average of 27.17. As Philander himself would say, “stats don’t lie”. Abbott did perform well in South Africa’s warm-up matches, though, taking three for 37 against Sri Lanka and two for 35 against New Zealand. Parnell played, too, and took two for 44 against Sri Lanka and two for 52 against New Zealand. It’s the kind of thing that would make most rational-minded people very glad that they are not selectors.
Still, for those who fancy their chances at pontificating the balance of international sporting teams, there is also the dubious question of who to play at number seven. Farhaan Behardien has been fulfilling that duty, but considering his form with the bat and the fact that their key batsmen have failed twice on the trot, South Africa will be scratching their heads ahead of Friday’s match against the West Indies.
The balance of the squad is becoming a persistent bone of contention and the absence of a genuine all-rounder means that they have to mix and match in order to make the balance work. South Africa could, of course, drop Behardien and replace him with Rilee Rossouw, but that would mean that JP Duminy is called on to bowl ten overs. He has done so on just four occasions in his entire career. Against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka last year, he bowled 9.4 overs with figures of 50-1. That might not be the worst idea, but considering the West Indies power hitters seem to eat spin and part-time bowling for breakfast, South Africa might want to have an extra pace option in the bag instead. It would leave the batting line-up significantly weakened, but considering it was a risk South Africa was willing to take against India, perhaps the team will be so bold as to persist with it against a weaker bowling line-up.
Whatever happens, it would seem as though a certain Mr. Murphy has it in for South Africa. So far, everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong. Their in-form batsmen have all failed at the same time, their pace ace has struggled with illness, their key man is now out injured and it probably won’t be a surprise if we were to find out that AB de Villiers can no longer hold a tune. DM
Photo: Zimbabwean batsman Raza Butt walks off after being dismissed by South Africa’s Vernon Philander (2nd R) during their Cricket World Cup match in Hamilton, February 15, 2015. REUTERS/Nigel Marple