No7 slot the key

January 26, 2015

There is nothing wrong with the form of South Africa’s batsmen ahead of the World Cup.

Four centuries have been scored in the four ODI matches so far between the Proteas and the West Indies – and all four have been by the home batsmen. All of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, David Miller and Rilee Rossouw have knocked up centuries to show the top-order in rude health – even if Faf du Plessis has had an indifferent series, with a 0 and a 4, although his unbeaten 51 in East London suggests he could also have gone big on that day.

When Quinton de Kock returns from injury the Proteas selectors will have been more options, while JP Duminy weighed in with an important 43 in a valuable partnership – albeit in vain – with Miller in Port Elizabeth.

That top and middle-order is settled for the World Cup. Amla, Du Plessis, De Villiers, Miller and Duminy pick themselves, while it might come down to seeing who of Rossouw and De Kock open with Amla. I’d go with De Kock for a number of reasons, although probably the clincher for me is De Villiers.

Why him, you might ask? Simply because I’d prefer to see De Villiers in the field and not behind the stumps. He adds so much to the outfielding – in the fourth ODI he was central to two of the three run outs with brilliant awareness and accuracy – and as captain can free his mind to think tactics without the burden of the gloves.

Therefore, my top order with one official match before the World Cup is: Amla, De Kock, Du Plessis, De Villiers, Miller and Duminy. You might want to throw Rossouw into the mix somewhere, which would give the Proteas a batting seven that should never, on any surface and in any conditions they’ll experience in Australia and New Zealand, be short of a 280-plus total. And that will win most ODI matches anywhere.

I would have taken Ryan McLaren as an all rounder ahead of the bits and pieces of Farhaan Behardien but that horse has bolted and the stable door shut tight. So, it’s onto the bowlers.

Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir and Vernon Philander occupy four of the top five slots in most wickets column in the ODI series so far, and they are South Africa’s best strike bowlers. Each of them are wicket-takers and they don’t set out of their stalls to contain the opposition batsmen, although the seamers do have the ability to do that. And Tahir, while he can be expensive, is a wrist-spinner who should be used more to run through a middle order and the tail, rather than used at the death when there are wickets in hand.

So, what we have learnt from this ODI series so far, and so close to the World Cup, is nothing we didn’t know after last year’s ODI triangular tournament in Zimbabwe. South Africa’s batsmen are powerful and won’t be unduly fazed by setting, or chasing, a total of 300 at the World Cup, but the balance of the side remains off centre. That key spot – which we knew as early as the Zimbabwe tournament – is No7 in the order.

Whichever way one looks at it, it will be the position that determines South Africa’s fate at the World Cup.

The only three names not mentioned about in the 15-man squad are Wayne Parnell, Kyle Abbott and Aaron Phangiso. It might be that one of them has to come in to the mix to help out Duminy with the fifth bowler duties – and if someone else is having a bad day at the office – but so as to not affect the batting. All-rounder Parnell might split opinion, but he could just be the luckiest Protea going to the World Cup, by default, with Rossouw the unluckiest.

This could be the preferred XI for the bigger matches Down Under: Amla, De Kock, Du Plessis, De Villiers, Miller, Duminy, Parnell, Philander, Steyn, Morkel and Tahir. It has a long tail but tournament success is always going to hinge on how well the batsmen set a total, and chase them.

Click here for Graeme Pollock’s view



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