The Proteas will go into yet another five-match ODI series with Kagiso Rabada expected to shoulder most of the responsibility.
The selectors missed a substantial trick by not picking another bowler for the New Zealand tour. Continuity is of course key with the Champions Trophy in England approaching, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have included an extra paceman – one with some experience.
In big tournaments you want players who have been in the big-match pressure situations before, so with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel lingering on the sidelines, you can understand why bowling coach Charl Langeveldt has identified a return for Vernon Philander.
The Proteas could benefit from a bowler who’s been in the setup for a number of years, and the English conditions, which offers plenty of swing and seam movement, are ideal for Philander.
There’s still a possibility that Philander might get a late call-up for the tournament, but then you’ve got to ask yourself why he wasn’t given a run around for the New Zealand series, even if it was simply to assist with the load that Rabada has had to endure recently.
The proverbial fast-bowling baton has been passed on to Rabada across the formats, and he’s done an excellent job. He’s a world-class player, and he will be key for the Proteas up front in the Champions Trophy.
But we must remember that he’s 21. This should be a period of learning for him; a time to gain some experience and grow into his role. It’s very difficult to do that when you’re expected to be your country’s go-to man.
He’s taken on the responsibility willingly and professionally. He’s had to bowl more overs than anyone else and play almost every game. He’s made a good job of it, but his form has waned slightly in the 50-over format, and you can’t blame him for this.
The transformation targets, as effective as they have been so far, have given very little breathing space for Rabada to be rested. That was the responsibility he took on, as promising young black players such as Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi line up to find their feet at international level.
But the fact remains that he bowled 44 overs in the whitewash series against Sri Lanka, 11 more overs than anyone else. In a series that the Proteas dominated, thanks largely to the batting, Rabada should not have needed to bowl this much.
But he did, because he was the only fast bowler AB de Villiers really entrusted to do the job. Wayne Parnell was the leading wicket-taker, but he was inconsistent and expensive with the new ball, placing all the pressure on Rabada to tidy up at the other end. Dwaine Pretorius was underplayed and Phehlukwayo was worryingly under-utilised. Chris Morris bowled well, but is still getting back into the thick of things after returning from injury.
Rabada actually looked at his best when he didn’t open the bowling. Using the older ball at Newlands, he took figures of 2-50 from nine overs when Sri Lanka needed well above eight an over. Bringing on Rabada later is a good option to have in the locker, but it’s probably not going to be a luxury the Proteas can afford against the Black Caps.
Digressing slightly away from the importance of experience, it’s hugely unfortunate that Ngidi is still injured after making such an impact in the T20 series. Just as Rabada needs an experienced paceman bowling with him, the young Titans bolter could have benefited from Rabada for a few matches. Should Ngidi be picked for the Champions Trophy, he’s going in cold.
Negativity is not the aim here, for the Proteas have played some exceptional cricket and it’s reflected in the rankings. But without a Dale Steyn, a Morne Morkel or a Vernon Philander to mutter pearls of wisdom in his ear as he walks back to his mark, Rabada is missing out on a significant chunk of his development. Having that experience is something to prioritise ahead of the Champions Trophy, and they might well come undone against a strong all-round New Zealand outfit in the coming weeks.
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