Proteas bowlers yet to hit their straps as T20 World Cup looms large

Proteas bowlers yet to hit their straps as T20 World Cup looms large
Kagiso Rabada of the Proteas during the T20I between South Africa and West Indies at SuperSport Park in Centurion, South Africa. 26 March, 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images)

South Africa’s erratic bowling could be detrimental to their T20 World Cup silverware ambitions.

The Proteas’ batting lineup looks primed for battle as the T20 World Cup approaches. All the bases are covered, with a combination of batters in the form of their lives as well as hard-nosed veterans selected for the tournament in the US and the Caribbean.

The South African bowling lineup, conversely, looks thin on both form and experience.

Proteas white ball coach Rob Walter has gone with three spin bowling options — Bjorn Fortuin, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj — with an eye on the potentially slower and grippier surfaces across the Caribbean.

There are also five quicks in the 15-man squad in Kagiso Rabada, Ottniel Baartman, Gerald Coetzee, Marco Jansen and Anrich Nortje — Jansen doubling up as the all-rounder in the squad.

Marco Jansen

Marco Jansen of the Proteas during the 4th T20I against India at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot, India. 17 June 2022. (Photo: Pankaj Nangia/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Shamsi is South Africa’s most experienced bowler and has the most T20I wickets for the country. He was also at the peak of the T20 bowling rankings in 2021 but has since slowly slid down the spin bowling pecking order, with Maharaj often selected as the first-choice option since making his debut in the format in the same year.

Despite 34-year-old Maharaj being an old hand in the Proteas squad, his T20 experience, internationally (27 caps) and across franchise leagues is notably low.

The left-arm orthodox bowler has, however, excelled in his short spell in the format. He was the fourth-highest wicket-taker in the SA20 at the start of the year at a tidy economy rate of 7.3.

Keshav Maharaj

Keshav Maharaj of the Proteas during the 3rd T20I against India at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. 14 December 2023. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

His terrific showing saw him picked up in the Indian Premier League for the first time where he played two matches for the Rajasthan Royals, picking up two wickets and only going at 6.5 runs per over.

The Proteas will rely heavily on the consistent off-spinner to keep things quiet during the middle overs during the global showpiece.

Fortuin, although also a left-arm orthodox bowler, has a different role to play in the side, often asked to open the bowling and deliver a second over in the powerplay.

It’s a unique role for a spin bowler to play but one he has done consistently well over the course of his domestic career. Nonetheless, the Proteas are unlikely to field two similar types of bowlers in the same lineup so he will likely be Maharaj’s replacement at the World Cup.


Baartman has been the country’s form quick bowler across franchise and domestic cricket this year. The medium-fast bowler has a deadly yorker and can hit a length consistently.

He took 18 wickets in eight appearances in the SA20 at a scarcely believable economy rate of 6.95, while asked to bowl mainly at the death.

While those figures bode well for the Proteas, Baartman only made his international debut yesterday, less than two weeks before the Proteas’ first match in the tournament.

Ottniel Baartman

Ottniel Baartman of the Proteas. 16 December 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Gallo Images)

Baartman was the pick of the South African bowlers, collecting three wickets for 26 runs in their 28-run loss to West Indies at Sabina Park in Jamaica yesterday.

Rabada has also found some of his best bowling form in the shortest format recently. He picked up 11 wickets in 11 outings for the Punjab Kings in the IPL at an economy rate of 8.85 before returning home after sustaining an injury.

While Rabada’s economy rate may seem high, his is in the top-10 economy rates for fast bowlers in the tournament that saw new record-high scores set by batters.

Outside of Rabada, the Proteas’ fast bowling experience is extremely light, with only Nortje (31 caps) having more than five international appearances in the format.

Kagiso Rabada

Kagiso Rabada of the Proteas during the 3rd T20I against West Indies at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. 28 March 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)


Coetzee, Nortje and Jansen are South Africa’s fastest bowlers in the squad but also the three who have struggled with their economy rates the most recently.

Coetzee has picked up wickets, 13 in 10 appearances but has leaked runs at 10.17 per over. Internationally, his economy rate is also hovering close to 10.

Nortje, since coming back from a six-month long back injury enforced layoff, has had no problems getting his pace back up but his economy rate has shot up too upon his return.

In the six matches he ran out for Delhi Capitals in the IPL, his economy rate was 13.36.

Jansen’s economy rate also exceeded 13 in the three matches he has played and has had very little impact with the willow too.

It should be a concern for the Proteas that so few of the fast bowlers have hit their straps with the global tournament so close to commencing. South Africa play West Indies in two more matches this weekend, with Nortje and Coetzee in the squad looking to regain some of their best form.

Baartman is there too as he continues to gain valuable experience. Unfortunately, Jansen is at the IPL — and unlikely to get another match this season — with the Sunrisers Hyderabad as they contend for the trophy. DM


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