Cape Town – Seemingly by design, South Africa look noticeably short of proven batting strike-power for the one-day international series against neighbours Zimbabwe from the end of the month.
That’s what happens almost automatically when you fairly brazenly opt to rest Quinton de Kock and David Miller from your squad … captain Faf du Plessis still being in some doubt fitness-wise potentially aggravates the situation a lot further.
So it certainly seems, when the national selectors revealed their hand a few days ago, that the team’s brains trust are intent on strongly pressuring some outright rookie or less established batsmen to seize responsibility for domination at the crease against the minnows.
It is highly unlikely that the Proteas would risk pulling out key men to the extent they have against the majority of stronger powers in world cricket, and the Zimbabweans – who have the opposite phenomenon of welcoming back some pretty decent stalwarts – may just feel already that an upset or two is not out of the question in the three-game exercise.
“Derby” hostilities begin in Kimberley on September 30 and move on to Bloemfontein (October 3) and Paarl (October 6).
But Linda Zondi’s panel are, clearly, determinedly prepared to stay in experimental mode for the moment – and confident they carry enough guns to do the job without undue stress anyway – as far as their planning for the 2019 World Cup in England is concerned.
Certainly if Du Plessis’ shoulder has not recovered to an agreeable level by the time the series arrives, the home batting arsenal will have an especially noticeable SA ‘A’ sort of flavour to it, as men like Khaya Zondo, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen and new cap Christiaan Jonker aim to cement berths among the senior hierarchy.
Considering that the Proteas will be tackling an outfit ranked 11th, and sitting between Afghanistan above them and Ireland below, mere “solidity” in showings from some of the fresher SA faces might not be deemed enough: the wise men will be entitled to seek some genuinely big, consistent figures from individuals at the crease as they slowly narrow down their CWC options.
Already still reeling to a good extent from the retirement of heavyweight AB de Villiers, no De Kock and no Miller means a stripping-away of considerably more major factors in fast-scoring terms for the Zimbabwe series.
De Kock (4 073 runs at 45.25) sports a strike rate of 94.23, while Miller (less prolific in weight of runs) nevertheless commands a strike rate in three-figure territory: a smouldering 101.21.
Take away that sort of clout – in every sense of the word – and it is going to be interesting to observe whether anyone from outside the remaining big-name category (Hashim Amla and JP Duminy are among the street-wise “balancers”) can put a major stamp on the series.
By holding back De Kock to the Twenty20 portion of the Zimbabwean visit, the Proteas will also be seeking, at least temporarily, someone who can fill his shoes as opening partner to Amla.
Those options are probably either of Aiden Markram or Reeza Hendricks: both are well familiar with doing duty in that role domestically, although their respective ODI experiences up to now have mostly been at the fall of either the first or second wicket.
Adding to the slight feeling of uncertainty around the SA batting department, the 16-strong squad picked continues to show a worrying overload of out-and-out bowlers, who offer negligible comfort in the 50-overs arena (at least by reputation) with the willow.
There could be some long Proteas tails in evidence all over again on paper, although someone like young all-rounder Wiaan Mulder has a chance to start blossoming more noticeably at the crease in the middle- to lower order.
It might also be argued that if too much dependency is placed on bottom-end batsmen to contribute meaningfully against a side as limited as Zimbabwe, then the main batting arsenal is a serious problem all of its own …
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