• Mind the tail, Proteas

    The Proteas side for the Kingsmead Test are certain to avoid the revolving door at the team hotel in order to protect their long tail, writes SIMON LEWIS.

    Ironically, it was the wagging tail (and another great innings from Quinton de Kock) that saved the Proteas’ blushes on day one of the first Test against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead. The Proteas should still win this Test match by virtue of the strength of their bowling attack – combined with the recent struggles of the Sri Lankan batsmen on their international travels – but the South Africans have perhaps given themselves a tough task by selecting five bowlers for the Test.

    Having dominated Pakistan in almost every department in the Test series using a four-man attack, the selectors have, in my opinion, choked in selecting their side for the first Test against Sri Lanka.

    But let me qualify what I mean by choking. I don’t mean they failed in their duties, as the merits of their five-man attack deserve a chance to play itself out. And selectors shouldn’t be held accountable for player performances, or if the luck doesn’t go their way. However, I feel they have ‘choked’ in terms of not making a big decision.

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    Theunis de Bruyn and Zubayr Hamza have both been left out of the side, with Hamza the obvious first casualty by virtue of having been a replacement for Faf du Plessis while the skipper served a one-match ban. De Bruyn’s axing had been called for from many quarters, as an average of just over 20 after nine Tests definitely puts him on the fringe of the first-choice side.

    However, De Bruyn scored a superb ton in the second Test in Sri Lanka in July last year when his Proteas teammates were struggling to get into double figures. Granted, different conditions, but there is a legacy from such a humbling defeat, and I believe the first thing the Proteas selectors should have done is to ensure the BATTING line-up for Kingsmead (for the first Test of the series!) is super-powerful.

    Select six specialist batsmen PLUS De Kock … and then four first-choice bowlers.

    Four Proteas pacemen rolled Pakistan 3-0 in the recent Test series that many would have expected to be a lot closer. Yes, the pitches were in South Africa’s favour, but nonetheless, one should expect that four pacemen can do the same damage against Sri Lanka.

    Of course, at Kingsmead and St George’s Park, a spinner or two is essential in the lineup, and that would have created an immensely tough decision for the Proteas selectors – finding a place for spinner Keshav Maharaj. This is where I believe the selectors ‘choked’. To be fair, there was no easy answer for the selection headache they faced, but the burden of leadership is having to make the hard calls.

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    I feel they took the easy way out by dropping De Bruyn and not fronting up to the really tough decision. The Proteas selectors would probably have made these notes during their selection meeting.

    • First choice? Maharaj as a spinner was mandatory, he’s world-class and Kingsmead is his home ground.
    • Second name … Kagiso Rabada. He is the best bowler in the world.
    • Third spot? Duanne Olivier – he was phenomenal as the Player of the Series against Pakistan and could not possibly be left out.

    Pencils down as the selectors see the selection accident waiting to happen. Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn’s names were not yet on the team sheet.

    Steyn is South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker and was in good form against Pakistan, finishing third on the wicket-taking list. He’s also jostling with England’s Stuart Broad for ownership of the seventh spot on the all-time Test wicket-taking list, and is one of the fiercest competitors in world cricket.

    Philander is the fourth-ranked bowler on the ICC’s list, he offers good value with the bat and has eight Test 50s to his credit.

    I believe the selection team choked by not being able to make the tough call of who to rest for Kingsmead. With South Africa boasting such great bowling resources (remember a big-chested youngster called Lungi Ngidi, who is just back from injury?) it’s inevitable that some bowlers will occasionally need to sit out a match.

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    Perhaps rotating Steyn and Philander for the two Tests in the series would have been the better decision, especially considering that both have had injury struggles in the past six months. Rest them now to help ensure both are in top shape for the BIG ONE – the World Cup.

    It would be a hard, hard, hard decision, but the selectors’ job is to make the best decision for the team, and ultimately I think that having an extra batsman would have served the Proteas better. We have arguably the world’s best bowling attack, so why beef that up further? It’s the batsmen who have been frustratingly inconsistent over the past year.

    Hindsight makes it easy to poke holes in a team sheet. However, this group of players has the talent to rank 1-1-1 in all three ICC tournaments, and I believe the journey to 1-1-1 starts with brave selection decisions, but decisions which don’t expose the team.

    There has been talk of the Proteas going to the World Cup without a backup gloveman for Quinton de Kock, and I find that a terrifying prospect, as this could seriously expose the Proteas.

    Quinton has the ability and BMT to be the Player of the Tournament, but he’s suffered a lot of injuries recently and has carried a heavy workload over the past year. While it might be tempting to travel without a spare wicketkeeper (who will possibly not play at all in the World Cup), the prospect of playing any World Cup match with a stand-in keeper is a nightmare that would make the 1999 run-out seem like a lovely walk in the park.

    Choosing five bowlers and five batsmen for Kingsmead is low-risk, considering the Proteas’ powerful bowling lineup, but it reflects high-risk selection thinking which, hopefully, won’t translate into the selection of the 2019 World Cup squad.

    Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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    Simon Lewis