Thu, 23 May 2019

Proteas should try ?bowler-light? approach

13 Mar 2019, 23:37 GMT+10

Cape Town - It would go heavily against head coach Ottis Gibson's more traditional instincts.

But with the liberty now to exercise some freedom in the two remaining, dead-rubber ODIs against a pretty demoralised and ordinary-looking Sri Lankan outfit, would it really be an outrageous step for South Africa to put some staffing-related pressure on their bowling attack for a change?

In other words, they should seriously contemplate - whether it is in Wednesday's imminent fourth clash at St George's Park or at Newlands on Saturday - fielding only four out-and-out bowlers and trialling a fifth 10-over component coming from the combination of batting off-spinners JP Duminy and Aiden Markram.

It would also give the Proteas the opportunity to employ all seven batsmen in their current, 15-strong squad ... including an inviting reprieve for Reeza Hendricks, dropped but then hastily recalled this week because of Hashim Amla's unfortunate family circumstances related to his seriously ill father.

For the earlier part of the series, they went contrastingly bowler-heavy - somehow this has often seemed a theme from the national side this season, across the formats - even to the extent at times of using rookie all-rounder Wiaan Mulder (now axed) as high as the demanding No 5 berth.

When the Proteas get to the World Cup itself in England/Wales from late May, they will encounter several different pitches: in the round-robin phase alone, they are due to play at all of The Oval, Rose Bowl, Sophia Gardens, Edgbaston, Lord's, Chester-le-Street and Old Trafford.

Weather conditions could also differ dramatically from one match and centre to another, as they travel the length and breadth of the UK.

So it would be relatively futile to start speculating too heavily on what their "ideal XI" is at the tournament; horses for courses is a quite likely scenario.

The batting department specifically, as well the questionable depth of stroke-play in the slots further down the order, has been a source of concern for some time, and it is just possible that at the World Cup the Proteas will be forced on occasions to beef up their batting as much as they possibly can as a result of imperfections at the crease.

While sacrificing a frontline bowler is a risky exercise of its own, the Proteas should always be in a position at the event to field a quartet of them who are right up there with the best the planet has to offer.

But their batting would look so much more reassuring on paper, too, if someone like the highly experienced Duminy - capable of being both an excellent finisher and strike-rotator in the closing overs - was to take guard at No 7 (either that or have David Miller stationed there, with Duminy at six).

It then raises the key question of whether a Duminy-Markram alliance for a 10-over bowling quota is really feasible, bearing in mind that the latter isn't even a shoe-in yet for a starting position among the cream of the batsmen.

Again, too, such a move might depend on on-day circumstances at the relevant venue; if the pitch looks like a slow turner it would make slightly better sense.

Yet that is exactly why it could be extremely educative for the Proteas to thrust the responsibility into the pair's joint-hands before the Sri Lankan series has been wrapped up ... and Wednesday's venue in Port Elizabeth wouldn't be the worst place, given its historical reputation for sluggishness and turn.

Duminy desperately seldom bowls a "maximum" spell himself in ODIs, something borne out by his statistical record from 129 bowling opportunities in his 192 matches in the format: it has occurred only five times, the last against India at Newlands in February last year.

But if he was able to get through, say, six or seven competent overs himself as he has done many times, having another part-time "offie" like Markram at hand for the extra three or four wouldn't be the daftest tactic ever to be witnessed on a cricket field.

Markram has only bowled three times - and not yet more than three overs in any single stint - in his 16-match ODI career thus far, but he has a useful List-A record in that regard: 17 wickets at an average of 23 and economy rate of just beyond five runs to the over.

If the Duminy-Markram alliance had an opportunity ahead of the World Cup to demonstrate whether or not they could cut it as a fifth-bowling component, it would help for any planning purposes in the more taxing heat of the tournament itself.

But maybe we shouldn't hold our breath about it happening over the next few days?

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing ...

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