Proteas in Sri Lanka, day 16

The Proteas’ T20 International modus operandi was established in the five matches in the West Indies and is now cemented in place for the World Cup next month. Trust the top six batsmen to put a ‘par’ score on the board when batting first and then rely on a specialist bowling attack to defend it. Or restrict the opposition to a par score and then rely on the top six to chase it.

It worked well last night, again, having succeeded in three of the five matches in the Caribbean.

‘Par’ varies from venue to venue to venue and conditions will add or subtract another 10-15 runs, but basically we’re looking at the 160-run mark. It seems highly unlikely that the current line-up will go much beyond that unless Quinton de Kock scores a hundred on a small ground like Sharjah. 

It may not be ideal but at least there is plan. After all, even having three or four individually gifted match-winners in the team in previous years hasn’t worked. And there wasn’t much point searching for batting depth and bowling options which didn’t exist. Better to work with the players you do have than trying to manufacture them. 

If using ‘specialists’ is the immediate way forward, perhaps that explains selection convenor Victor Mpitsang’s justification for selecting the previously uncapped Keshav Maharaj in the T20 World Cup squad: “Kesh is our number one Test spinner, he has bowled well in those conditions and that's why he is there,” said Mpitsang. It may have sounded counter-intuitive at the time, even a bit zany, but now you get it?

Also, he has leadership credentials. You know, in case Temba Bavuma’s broken thumb doesn’t heal properly.

“Kesh is an excellent leader. He has the backing of the team and us as a panel. He has more than proven his leadership skills in the Dolphins set up and reinforced our good decision during the ODI series against Sri Lanka,” Mpitsang said. “His exemplary captaincy is what we believe is in the best interests of the team's stability during this last international series that the team gets to play ahead of the World Cup.”

Mpitsang is a smart man and has a deep knowledge of South African cricket and its foibles. He is a thinker, speaks intelligently and has never been prone to his emotions. I wondered whether 24 hours of reflection might help with understanding his comments after the World Cup squad was announced.

George Linde has played the majority of white ball games over the last year and has been one of the most consistent successes. Mpitsang’s explanation makes as little sense now as it did when he spoke.

“When it comes to George, he is one of the all-rounders. He has done well with the ball, but we've gone with the seaming all-rounders," said Mpitsang. Seaming all rounders for a T20 tournament in the UAE. What?

“We do question, is it between him or Bjorn Fortuin. When we go with the left-arm spinner, we went with Bjorn. George has had the upper hand because he is an all-rounder.” Pardon?

“One thing about selection is role clarity, in the bowling side of things, George has done really well, but he is one of the all-rounders. Bjorn is a spinner up front and that's where the selection comes. Although George is one of the reserves, we went with the spinning options.” It sounded like Linde’s ability with the bat counted against him.

On the back of 24-hours of reflection, it is difficult to shake the opinion I had at the time. Victor may have been mentally and verbally scrambled by an omelette of information and guidelines that he was not at liberty to share. Because he is much, much better than we saw and heard on Thursday. 

Much of the day before the game was spent following developments at Old Trafford where India’s players chose not to play the fifth and final Test against England. In May, when the tour was being discussed with a view to the rescheduled IPL, the BCCI asked the ECB to reschedule the Manchester Test match. They asked if it could be played first. They said it was a bit too close to the rescheduled IPL dates. It may have been doomed then.

Finally, if anybody is looking for a ‘minnow’ team to support at the World Cup, and you’re not tempted by Namibia (whom I believe I have the best chance of causing an upset) – coached by Pierre de Bruyn and Albie Morkel and including former Proteas all rounder David Wiese in their ranks, why not cheer for the men in orange?

Exactly a third of the Netherlands squad of 15 are from South Africa: Colin Ackermann, Ryan ten Doeschate, Roelof van der Merwe, Stephan Myburgh and Brandon Glover.  

Leave a comment