Mark Boucher’s decision to use 23 players across the 12 limited-overs matches against England and Australia will reap short- and long-term benefits, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Let’s keep some perspective. South Africa sit at fourth in the ICC’s ODI rankings and at fifth on the T20I ladder. While they have taken some significant strides over the past few months, they aren’t the finished article or – in the context of the coming T20 World Cup – major contenders for silverware in the near future.
That said, there is hope regarding their long-term prospects. After what South African sport fans witnessed in 2018 and 2019, there is reason to believe that miracles are possible and that a team can improve in a relatively short space of time.
The Springboks slumped to several record defeats in 2016 and 2017, and went into the 2018 Test season ranked seventh in the world. A new coach in Rassie Erasmus, however, made significant changes across the board and the team improved to the point where it won the Rugby Championship and the World Cup in the same season (2019).
Erasmus made it clear at the start of his tenure that experimentation was necessary and that he would cast his net wide in an attempt to find the right individuals and combinations. The coach used 58 players in the 18 Tests staged between the start of the 2018 international season and the announcement of the World Cup squad in August 2019.
Erasmus came in for a lot of criticism during that period and, as he had predicted, the Boks lost some matches. Ultimately, the team got the answers they needed and went to the 2019 World Cup knowing that they had the starting side – and indeed the depth across the wider squad – to mount a strong challenge for the biggest prize in the sport.
It’s early days in Boucher’s tenure, and yet it’s encouraging to see that he is favouring a similar approach. There’s been a drive to experiment over the past 12 limited-overs games – a push to give untried players an opportunity and to assess different combinations.
As was the case with the Boks in 2018, the results haven’t always gone the Proteas’ way. While they drew with England and beat Australia 3-0 in the 50-over format, they were well beaten in both T20I series.
And yet Boucher has pressed on with his quest to develop a wider squad and find the best possible combinations. Indeed, the makeup of the 16-man squad for the upcoming ODIs against India suggests that much was learned across the recent games in South Africa. The inclusion of the uncapped George Linde shows that the process for finding the best possible individuals is ongoing.
The T20 World Cup will be staged in Australia this October. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a few of the regulars in the ODI side featuring at that tournament, as Boucher looks to make use of successful combinations across both formats.
South Africa are also building toward the next set of 50-over tournaments. The Champions Trophy will be staged in 2021 and the next World Cup in 2023. Better that Boucher experiments now than in the months leading up to the World Cup.
Quinton de Kock has been handed the captaincy. Whether he should wear the gloves or not is a hot point of debate, but all and sundry are in agreement that he is South Africa’s best opening option in the shorter formats.
Who should partner De Kock at the top of the order, though? The good news as far as the ODIs are concerned is that a couple of players have put their hands up in recent months.
ODI BATSMEN (TOP 7) USED IN 2020
Reeza Hendricks battled to make an impression, but Temba Bavuma and Janneman Malan – eventually, after a failure on debut – flourished in that opener’s role. Jon-Jon Smuts has been used in several positions this summer, and has shown that he can add value.
Rassie van der Dussen was one of the shining lights at the World Cup, and will be a key man going forward. It was good to see Kyle Verreynne making the most of his opportunity, though, and David Miller weighing in with some important knocks at the back end of an innings. Heinrich Klaasen – with 242 runs in three ODIs and 88 in two T20Is – has proved one of the most consistent performers across both formats.
Ten batsmen were used across the six ODIs – in the top-seven batting positions – against England and Australia. Boucher backed a similar combination over the course of the series against England, before introducing the likes of Verreynne and Klaasen against Australia. It certainly wasn’t a case of chopping and changing and not giving individuals and combinations a fair chance to stake a claim.
Eleven bowlers were used in the 50-over format. In the absence of Kagiso Rabada, who was rested, Lungi Ngidi shone, taking almost twice as many wickets as the next most prolific bowler.
Tabraiz Shamsi made an impression, though, as did Keshav Maharaj, who showed that he is more than a five-day specialist.
ODI BOWLERS USED IN 2020
It may be some time yet before Boucher gets the balance of that bowling attack right. What’s good to know is that the Proteas have two excellent spin options in Shamsi and Maharaj, as well as a quality all-rounder in Andile Phehlukwayo and a batsman who can bowl a bit of spin in Smuts.
Faf du Plessis featured in the T20Is against Australia, and is expected to travel to the T20 World Cup later this year. The Proteas will certainly need some experienced players in the mix to offset the number of rookies in the group.
One would hope that AB de Villiers returns to lend that batting lineup some real firepower. Aiden Markram has found some form on the domestic scene and may be back in the SA set-up sooner rather.
De Kock, Bavuma, Van der Dussen, Miller and Klaasen were the batsmen who contributed individual scores of 30 or more across the six T20Is. Clearly there is room for improvement in this format in the middle and lower order.
T20I BATSMEN USED (TOP 7) IN 2020
Phehlukwayo needs to find form with the bat. The powerful player – who has shown his ability to clear the boundary since making his debut four years ago – has featured in 10 limited-overs games this year yet only managed to contribute a total of 32 runs. The all-rounder has an important role to play with the bat going forward, especially in games where the selectors insist on picking a lengthy tail.
Ngidi has been the pick of the South African bowlers in the shortest format this season, with 13 wickets in six games. Ngidi and Rabada have conceded a lot of runs, though, and have recorded an average ecomomy rate in excess of 10 per over.
The Proteas have succeeded when they’ve varied their bowling approach, and looked to take the pace off the ball. Dale Steyn had some success in this regard, and may well become an option when the Proteas are looking for seasoned players to take to the T20 World Cup.
Boucher would do well to explore an attack that includes two frontline spinners. Shamsi has been highly effective in the middle overs, both in terms of wicket-taking and economy. Surely it’s worth developing a second slow bowler – as so many other sides have in the T20I format – whether it’s Maharaj, Bjorn Fortuin or Linde.
One thing is for certain, the Proteas can’t go into the big games with an all-seam attack – or more specifically an attack lacking in variation – and expect to prosper.
T20I BOWLERS USED IN 2020
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