Given that the game was a ‘must-win’ following three straight defeats, one assumes that the South African selectors picked their strongest available squad to take on the West Indies, writes GARY LEMKE.
And in doing so they’ve showed their hand: they are no closer to knowing what their best starting XI at this World Cup are among the 15 players in the squad – although one assumes the recovering Lungi Ngidi would be in their preferred XI.
The selectors made two changes from the team that lost to India, leaving out JP Duminy and Tabraiz Shamsi at the Rose Bowl. This was South Africa’s second match at the venue in Southampton, although in the first one, against India, they left out Aiden Markram, who had scored runs for fun at the venue during a pre-World Cup stint at Hampshire. It was a strange decision. Against West Indies, they brought him back, but he failed to get going, which provides another headache.
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It’s obvious that they know that the nucleus of their best XI, the six players – Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir – have started all four matches, although with the game against West Indies rained out, South Africa are still looking for their first victory.
Hashim Amla, ruled out of the game against Bangladesh due to concussion, would likely have played all four, but in his three games he’s made 13, 6 and 6, which hardly inspires confidence for opening the batting against New Zealand and Australia later on.
JP Duminy made 8, 45 and 3 before he was dropped for Monday’s game, while Markram has also played three times. He’s made 11, 45 and 5, and been used as an opener and at No 3.
Ngidi, who suffered a hamstring injury after bowling four overs against Bangladesh, has played two matches and reports suggest he’s 80% fit to return.
All-rounder Dwaine Pretorius played the opener, and Tabraiz Shamsi came in for the defeat to India, while Beuran Hendricks, flown in to replace Dale Steyn, started against West Indies. When the rain came after 7.3 overs, the Proteas were already 29-2 with Amla and Markram back in the hut.
The inclement weather apart, the match against West Indies was a ‘final’ within a round-robin context. Those players the selectors decided to leave out of the XI were Duminy, Shamsi, Pretorius and Ngidi – although when the latter returns. it’s likely to be at the expense of Hendricks. What of Duminy, Shamsi and Pretorius going forward?
For the record, the opening match against England, a defeat by 104 runs, saw the following XI: De Kock, Amla, Markram, Du Plessis, Van der Dussen, Duminy, Pretorius, Phehlukwayo, Rabada, Ngidi and Tahir.
Then, playing Bangladesh in a match South Africa had fully expected to win, the selectors made two changes: they plumped for De Kock, Markram, Du Plessis, David Miller (in for Amla), Van der Dussen, Duminy, Phehlukwayo, Morris (in for Pretorius), Rabada, Ngidi and Tahir.
Against India there were a further two changes: Amla returned, replacing Markram, while Shamsi filled in for Ngidi.
Against West Indies there were two more changes: Markram came back in place of Duminy, and Hendricks understandably replaced Shamsi under heavy skies. But where’s the continuity?
Next up is an assignment against bottom-of-the-log Afghanistan. One assumes a fit Ngidi will return, and Amla will probably be given a further chance to find form. Interestingly, last week I had a chat with Paddy Upton, the mental and physical strength conditioning coach who was part of India’s backroom team who won the 2011 World Cup.
‘Amla, Duminy and Miller all look to be one good scoring shot from being in form,’ he said. Such are the fine margins at this level, but with five matches remaining in the league phase, the Proteas have to put it all together against Afghanistan, and they have to do it with their best possible starting XI. That’s if the selectors know who those XI players are.