Bavuma: South Africa looking for opener, sixth bowling option ahead of T20 World Cup
South Africa have yet to make a firm decision on who will partner Quinton de Kock or who their sixth bowling option will be for the T20 World Cup later this year. With approximately seven fixtures left (one vs West Indies, three vs Ireland, and three vs Sri Lanka) before the tournament, they have limited time and matches to settle on a strategy.
That the team is still in the experimental stage of things is down in part to the disruption to the cricketing calendar and the continued postponement of a T20I series against India which was initially meant to happen last August and now won't take place at all. While that series would have kicked off South Africa's preparations for the World Cup, selection calls around the team for the ongoing tour of the West Indies have also raised some questions.
Why, for example, have they included four opening batters in their squad? Or two seam-bowling allrounders, neither of whom have played in the West Indies series so far? And how can they ensure they have enough big-hitters in the middle-order as well as enough bowlers to cover for someone who may have an off day? At the moment, they don't seem to know.
"In terms of combinations, we are looking at who can partner Quinny at the top. Reeza (Hendricks) is the guy at the moment and we believe he has done it well. David (Miller) is our seasoned finisher. He has done it for many years but unfortunately at the moment he is battling with form, as are a number of batters," Temba Bavuma, South Africa's limited-overs captain, said after their defeat in the fourth T20I.
"I'm sure a seaming allrounder will come back into the mix. Where we find ourselves at the moment is that we are looking for someone who can effectively play that sixth bowling role. If you look at a guy like Aiden (Markram), he gives you more than just the bowling option. He is someone we see as versatile in terms of his batting position. He can bat at the top as well as batting in the middle and he has been given that opportunity now, albeit in tough conditions. From a bowling front, that (the sixth-bowler) we haven't nailed down."
What's clear so far is that South Africa want to play at least three of their five openers: Hendricks, Bavuma and Markram. That means Janneman Malan, who has played 20 fewer T20Is than Markram and whose average is similar, is unlikely to be able to force his way back in at the moment. It also means that Bavuma, who started off his T20 career as an opener, is being used at No.3, where he has not come off yet. With Markram in the middle order, there is no space for either Heinrich Klaasen, Kyle Verreynne or anyone else South Africa may want to be there, except maybe Faf du Plessis. But that would create the same problem of only five bowling options that South Africa had in the first two matches against West Indies, so it will be interesting to see if du Plessis, the former captain, fits back in.
Although South Africa can't say for sure if Markram is a long-term sixth-bowling option, they are intent on finding out and used him to open the bowling in the last match with less than ideal results. Markram conceded 20 runs, which Bavuma identified as putting South Africa under pressure immediately and though it's an isolated incident, it remains a cause of concern.
Seemingly, a more secure choice would be to include a proven allrounder in Markram's spot but South Africa have left both Wiaan Mulder and Andile Phehlukwayo on the bench. Whether they will opt for Dwaine Pretorius, who missed this tour after contracting Covid-19, remains to be seen.
Then, there's the consideration that they already have an allrounder in the team in George Linde, who has earned his place with the ball but has the ability to do it with the bat. It's possible that South Africa don't want to appear to have a softer middle order with two allrounders at Nos. 6 and 7, especially as they have no choice but to start the lower order at No. 8.
Their three-pronged pace pack of Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi were exceptional in the Tests but have not reproduced that form with the white ball. Bavuma put that down to conditions. "Our bowlers, in terms of aggression and pace, we have always thrived on bowling on quick, bouncy wickets. That's a skill set that becomes null and void in these type (West Indian) of conditions," he said. "Maybe we have been found wanting in that department."
While Nortje has bowled some back-of-the-hand slower balls, South Africa overall have not adjusted to the surfaces as well as West Indies and Ngidi, in particular, has been expensive. Apart from Phehlukwayo and Mulder, South Africa have Beuran Hendricks, Lizaad Willams and Sisanda Magala (though he is currently battling an ankle injury) in reserve and have not used any of them yet. Bavuma indicated Williams may come into contention for the series-deciding fifth and final T20I, after an impressive debut earlier in the year. He was their leading bowler against Pakistan in the series in April.
The only position not under some scrutiny is Tabrazi Shamsi's. The world's leading T20I bowler has operated as both strike bowler and container, and his form means it's unlikely Imran Tahir, who has not retired from the shortest format, will don a South African shirt again. That, unless Tahir is afforded the opportunity and South Africa opt to field a four-spin attack in the UAE. They have the personnel in Tahir, Shamsi, Linde and Bjorn Fortuin. Imagine that.