South Africa’s best batter at the IPL is not in the T20 World Cup picture, while just one Proteas bowler features in the top-20 wicket-takers. RYAN VREDE examines the situation.
Given the seemingly endless schedule of the IPL, making an appraisal of Saffa performances a month into the competition may seem premature.
However, it is not unreasonable to be a little concerned that bowlers who are likely to feature for the Proteas at the T20 World Cup in October and November have either been inconsistent or, in many cases, not featured at all in the world’s premier T20 franchise competition.
IPL form is not an absolute indicator of where the Proteas stand six months out from the World Cup, but it is undeniably influential in making assessments and gauging the team’s prospects.
Of greatest concern, is the fact that Faf du Plessis, who is currently the tournament’s sixth-highest run-scorer, is highly unlikely to be considered for selection. Du Plessis retired from Test cricket in 2021 but is still available for T20I and ODI cricket.
He excelled in last year’s IPL, finishing as the tournament’s second-highest run-scorer. This was a continuation of consistently high performance in the tournament, where he has finished among the top-five scorers for three of the past four seasons.
Despite this, the national selectors omitted him from the Proteas squad that failed to qualify for the 2021 T20 World Cup semi-finals, thanks in large part to a group-game defeat by Australia in which they batted poorly.
Du Plessis is unlikely to be considered for the tournament in Australia later this year, as the national selectors lean into their amateur approach to this issue.
The run-scoring responsibilities will largely be carried by batters who’ve fired and failed in equal measure. At the time of writing, Quinton de Kock averaged 29 after eight innings with two half-centuries and was ranked 15th. This is a decent record, but De Kock is a better player than what these stats reflect. The Proteas will rely heavily on him at the top of the order in Australia. His opening partner, Temba Bavuma, did not secure an IPL contract.
David Miller has enjoyed a return to white-ball form in the past year and has carried that into the IPL. He has been unbeaten thrice in seven innings, accounting for an average of 73. He is evolving into the middle-order force many who’ve tracked his career always believed he should and could be.
In the last year, Aiden Markram‘s rise as a T20 batter has been exponential, which is reflected in him currently being the second-highest ranked batter in the format. Four of his five innings at the IPL have ended unbeaten and he has become the fulcrum around which the Sunrisers middle order is built.
The next-best Saffa is Dewald Brevis, ranked 40th. I built an argument for why he should be included in the Proteas World Cup squad, but he is unlikely to feature as the selectors opt for experience.
Dewald Pretorius, who will compete with Marco Jansen to be the Proteas’ first-choice all-rounder in Australia, has a highest score of 22 in the four matches he’s played. Jansen has yet to bat in the tournament.
Furthermore, it is concerning that Rassie van der Dussen, who has been incredibly good for the Proteas in T20I cricket, has played just two matches for the Royals. He is good enough to overcome this setback in the 11 scheduled T20I matches the Proteas have between now and the World Cup, but it is disappointing that he has not been backed in the IPL.
On the surface, the Proteas should mount a reasonably strong batting challenge at the World Cup. Whether their bowlers can match that effort remains to be seen. It doesn’t aid their cause that only Kagiso Rabada, Marco Jansen and Pretorius have bowled regularly.
Rabada was bought for R18 million at the IPL auction, but to date has not found the form that earned him that contract. He has fallen sharply in the T20 rankings over the past year and now sits 50th. Injury and workload management have had him miss a chunk of matches in that period, but the Proteas will rely heavily on him Down Under.
Jansen excelled for the Sunrisers at the weekend, picking up 3-25, including Du Plessis’ wicket. The experience of playing against the world’s best T20 batters on wickets that are unforgiving for rookie seam bowlers is invaluable in a Proteas context.
Elsewhere, Anrich Nortje has played just one match in the tournament, Lugidi Ngidi zero, while Tabraiz Shamsi, the world’s top-ranked T20 bowler, was snubbed at the auction.
Shamsi’s career ascent has come despite being consistently overlooked at IPL auctions or underutilised when he has been picked up. So, he is likely to remain a potent weapon for the Proteas, but there is no question that consistent participation in the IPL would have amplified his already considerable threat.
Keshav Maharaj, who forced his way into the World Cup squad in 2021 on the strength of his domestic form, wasn’t picked up in the auction, either. The Proteas could be brave and play two specialist spinners in Australia, but the more likely scenario is that they will go with two fast-bowling all-rounders for most matches.
It would be worthwhile to revisit the situation at the end of the IPL but, as it stands, the Proteas look stacked on the batting front yet thin from a bowling perspective.