There was lots to like about the Proteas’ bowling performance in the West Indies series, but plenty to be concerned about batting-wise, particularly an impotent middle order, writes RYAN VREDE.
The Proteas came into the five-match series with an awful T20 record under Mark Boucher (four wins from 16 matches) and were widely seen as the underdogs against the reigning world champions in the format.
Instead they defied expectations to win the series 3-2, their bowling potency emerging as the most encouraging feature. Indeed, it was at the heart of their ability to defend average scores set by a batting unit which has chronic struggles.
With just six matches in the format to go before the T20 World Cup, the Proteas have to address serious concerns, both collectively and individually, in this dimension of the game.
These make up the bulk of the five key things we’ve learned from the series.
THE SELECTORS DON’T KNOW THEIR BEST 11
With just six T20 matches to go before the World Cup, this is the most worrying thing to emerge from the series. As an extension of this, there seems to be no clarity on what combinations – six specialist batsmen/an all-rounder and four specialist bowlers, five specialist batsmen/two all-rounders and three specialist bowlers – is best.
In fairness to Boucher and the selectors, they’ve been patient with a clutch of underperforming players, allowing them plenty of time to settle and prove their worth. This is especially true on the batting front. Not many have, forcing the coach and selectors to look elsewhere for pieces to the puzzle.
Heinrich Klaasen was dropped two matches into the series after it became clear that he isn’t the middle-order force the Proteas need. Opener Reeza Hendricks was cut for the decider, signalling what could be a new direction at the top of the order. It is also likely that Lungi Ngidi would have been cut had Anrich Nortje been available for the final match.
Boucher and the selectors have to find the right combinations in the matches that remain before the format’s showpiece tournament.
BATTING SKILLS DEFICIENCIES ARE KILLING THE CAUSE
The West Indies have a skilful bowling unit, but the Proteas’ inability to find effective rebuttals to their slower balls, cutters and length variations, particularly outside of the Powerplay, was deeply frustrating.
Outside of the Powerplay, the Proteas’ scoring rate was mediocre. In the first match they scored at a rate of 7.64 in the 14 overs after the Powerplay, 6.92 in the second, 8.28 in the third, 7.35 in the fourth and 8.50 in the fifth.
Break this down to the last five and the concern is compounded. They scored 51 (10 per over) in this period of the first match, 39 in the second (7.8 per over), 45 in the third (9 per over), 51 in the fourth (10 per over) and just 40 in the last five of the final match (8 per over).
In most cases they had enough wickets in hand to mount more significant challenges than they did. This is a dimension of the game they will have to make exponential improvements in if they are to be more than place fillers at the World Cup.
AIDEN MARKRAM TRANSFORMS THE TEAM’S CHALLENGE
There was much to lament from a batting perspective, but Markram’s emergence as a T20 force is reason to celebrate.
He was brought into the side to replace Klassen after the second match, and ended up playing a match-defining knock (70 off 48 deliveries) in the decider.
Where he bats will depend on whether the Proteas include Faf du Plessis in the squad for the World Cup, but whether it’s at three or four, his x-factor is desperately required in a batting line-up that lacks it.
GEORGE LINDE CAN BE SA’S MOST VALUABLE T20 PLAYER IF HE FINDS CONSISTENCY
I’ve advocated for Linde in the past, and still believe he can be the Proteas’ most valuable player at the World Cup, should things click for him.
This assertion is based on what he offers in all facets of the game and how that positively affects his team, provided he is playing to his potential.
It is clear that he is a bowling all-rounder, whose primary task is to choke the run-rate, whether he is deployed in the Powerplay or thereafter.
His performance with the ball in the second match highlighted that, if he excels in this role, the Proteas more often than not scratch off eight overs (Tabraiz Shamsi’s four included) during which the run-rate is strangled. When the pace duo of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje do well (the former’s economy rate was 9.44 but ended as the joint-top wicket taker, and the latter’s just 7, in the series), that’s 16 of 20 overs during which the run-rate is heavily restricted.
Consider that Dwaine Pretorius, who has an economy-rate of 8.07 and a strike-rate of 17.50, is likely to return to replace Lungi Ngidi, you start to understand how important Linde is to the team’s cause. The turning tracks of the UAE and Oman will further amplify his potency.
His batting in the series was awful (averaged 2.25), which is a major concern. When he is batting well, he gives the line-up depth, x-factor and tactical flexibility. When he isn’t, he quickly becomes a liability.
Linde has to develop some consistency in his game, and quickly. If he does, he is a massive asset to the Proteas.
TABRAIZ SHAMSI IS UNDER APPRECIATED BY MOST FANS
I was among the doubters but I was happy to have my opinion embarrassed.
Shamsi was at the heart of the Proteas’ success in the West Indies, with a mind-blowing return of seven wickets in his 20 overs, at an economy-rate of just four, and a strike-rate of 17.1.
He underlined why he is ranked as the best bowler in the format, exhibiting more control, variation and tactical intelligence than he has at any point in his career. He can single-handedly win matches for the Proteas, making him a very, very valuable player.