As expected, there is all kinds of debate about our World Cup squad – where is Albie Morkel? South Africa only has one all-rounder? We’re taking Faf du Plessis? Robin Peterson? Where is David Miller? MARK BLOODY BOUCHER! And so on and so forth.
Let’s clear something up: only having one all-rounder is not a problem. The Aussies have been trying to squash an all-rounder in their squad since Keith Miller graced their line-up in the fifties and only finally cracked it with Shane Watson in the last 18 months. Think about it – can you remember any decent Australian all-rounders between Miller and Watson? Yet they’ve been a successful team without one – and this is because they have chosen specialists. While we, in the late nineties and early noughties, picked Nicky Boje because he could bat (and I think this may also be one of the reasons we have persisted with Peterson and Ontong, to an extent), Australia picked spinners who could actually turn the ball. I know, you think they had the superstardom of Shane Warne, but they also had Bradd Hogg, Stuart Macgill, Colin Miller. South Africa has now moved toward not picking people due to what they can do outside their speciality. Steyn, Morkel and Tsotsobe, a potent quickie attack, are not selected because any of them can wield the willow. Our squad, outside Kallis and Peterson, are mostly specialists and I think the selectors have done well to remember that this is what cricketers should be measured by. No one remembers Don Bradman’s bowling average.
Cricinfo is ablaze with comments about Albie Morkel being left out of our World Cup squad, particularly as it is being held in the country where he has performed well for his IPL franchise, the Chennai Superkings. I personally have no issue with leaving Albie behind because I honestly feel that South Africa has never learned how to use him. We’ve always expected him to just walk in during a power-play and thwack the ball around the place. I can’t, and I could be wrong, remember when we treated him like a proper batsman. And it is not like he’s alone in this – Justin Kemp, the man who was supposed to solve our post-Klusener blues was dealt with in the same manner. We forget that some blokes can hit from ball one, but that any batter is going to do better when he’s had time to settle in. Morkel can slap 40 from 20 balls, but can you imagine if we let him face 100 of them? This innings of Kemp may remind you: We were sucking at 71-5 when Kemp came in at number 7. Finally he had time to play himself in and guess what? Bangity-bang, he clobbered 100 in 89 balls. It took Indian bowlers to give Kemp the opportunity, but Morkel hasn’t had his yet. I am sorry he is not going because he is talented, but he is a talent we haven’t worked out how to use, outside of throwing him into the fray whenever we want a power-play.
David Miller, one of the cleanest strikers of a cricket ball in the South African game, is in such miserable form that it’s no surprise that he’s not on the flight with the rest of the squad. He hasn;t really been around enough for us to know he will turn the corner like we can with Smith who is also in crap form but has a career for us to judge him on. I also think Miller has been treated a bit like Albie Morkel which certainly isn’t going to help... It seems as though Faf du Plessis has been drafted in to replace him and to be honest I think this is a good call but the selectors, even if he hadn’t scored that composed half-century in the fourth ODI against India (on debut nogal). He has probably been the most solid performer in domestic limited overs cricket in the last two years, churning out a pile of runs. In 91 innings he’s klunked over 3000 runs at an average of 43 and a strike rate of 90. He may not have the hitting power of Miller but runs leak from his bat like a virgin having his/her nipples squeezed.
The aforementioned three pacemen, Steyn, Morkel and Tsotsobe pretty much have their places guaranteed. Johan Botha will (very correctly, in my opinion) be the premier spinner and the fifth bowler will probably be one of Parnell or Imran Tahir, the foreigner we have decided to pretend is South African. On Indian pitches, playing two spinners is probably the way to go so Tahir should see some game time. If this tactic fails we always have Kallis who can churn out ten overs of accurate seam-up bowling. While Botha will aim to block up an end as he does so successfully (his economy rate is 4.65, the second lowest in the squad after Tsotsobe), Tahir will attack with his leggies.
I think that the only real regret we may have is leaving Mark Boucher out of the squad. The experiment with AB de Villiers keeping has worked to a large degree and I don’t even think it is Boucher’s (superb) wicket keeping we will miss that much, it is purely his performance under pressure. He has more BMT in him than anyone else playing cricket (ok, since Steve Waugh retired). However, it’s a tactical decision and we do have some experienced heads going anyway – Smith, Kallis, de Villiers, Steyn – only a few with World Cup experience though.
Either way – we had no World Cup experience in 1992 and made it to the semis.
We’ve managed to lose key World Cup matches in every screwed up or dumb manner possible. In four consecutive World Cups we lost because of the rain rule in ’92, we left out Allan Donald against the West Indies in ’96, a tie in ’99 and because we didn’t read the Duckworth-Lewis rules in ’03. There cannot be another stupid way to knock ourselves out of a World Cup – certainly not that we haven’t tried yet.
So hopefully we make it through this World Cup without anything daft happening – our own fault or not. A batting order that reads Smith, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers, Duminy and one of van Wyk, du Plessis or Ingram will be full of runs. Pace is well-catered for – coming from Tsotsobe, Steyn, Morkel and probably Kallis. Spin is in the capable hands of Johan Botha and Imran Tahir. While our batting may have looked slightly suspect against India in the recent series, I wouldn’t take its performance as gospel – Smith and AB are too talented not to come good, Kallis was missing and the Amla run-machine and Duminy played some great knocks. And the pitches in India as are flat as a Free State farm – so it’s good that our bowling attack seems in decent nick.
This may be the least settled squad we’ve had in the five World Cups we have attended, but I think that we certainly stand a decent chance of doing well, although India and Sri Lanka must be the favourites, followed by England (and no, no one is wishing cramp on Andrew Strauss).