Tue, 22 Sep 2020

Proteas in PE: Why ?all pace? seems ill-advised

13 Jan 2020, 04:13 GMT+10

Cape Town - Uncapped seamer Dane Paterson being the only additional, on-site presence to the XI who did duty in the New Year Test defeat raises an interesting question: are the Proteas planning to field a five-strong pace battery against England in the third clash at St George's Park from Thursday?

That has already been a source of speculation in some media after South Africa's selectors confirmed, a few days ago, an unchanged extended squad of 16.

But they also went a long way to revealing the Proteas' hand for the key clash in the Friendly City - the four-match series is locked at 1-1 - by releasing all of Temba Bavuma and Beuran Hendricks (Lions), Andile Phehlukwayo (Dolphins) and Rudi Second (Warriors) to play in a new round of 4-Day Franchise Series fixtures beginning on Monday.

So with those games (Cobras v Titans in Cape Town, Warriors v Knights in East London and Dolphins v Lions in Maritzburg) only due to finish on day one of the Test, it stands to reason that any of that quartet would only be summoned to the camp in a last-ditch emergency.

While head coach Mark Boucher and company are probably favoured to resist a knee-jerk hallmark at this point by installing the same side who scrapped acceptably hard - still in transitional times, remember - before being defeated at Newlands, either of long-time first-choice spinner Keshav Maharaj or all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius (though that move would thin the batting further) seem the likeliest endangered figures if Paterson is suddenly pushed to the forefront for a Test debut.

More traditionally renowned for his death bowling and other cerebral skills in white-ball cricket, the 30-year-old from the Cape Cobras would represent a slightly surprise choice for the third Test; the likelier scenario is that he is in PE primarily as cover in the lead-up for the three main pace incumbents in the SA ranks - Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Anrich Nortje.

Even more debatable would be if he nudged out Maharaj for a berth, as that would leave the Proteas with an excessive stock of five seamers on a usually sluggish surface which generally cries out for the presence of at least one frontline spinner.

There is an understandable theory in Test cricket that if a captain has five quickies available to him, four tend to do the overwhelming bulk of the work and the fifth becomes a relatively redundant figure.

Left-armer Maharaj isn't in his most consummate Test form, a pattern that has lingered since the collectively depressing tour of India at the outset of the current summer.

He has not, in fact, taken anything more than three wickets in a single innings over the course of a further 14 since his career-best (and unlikely to ever be repeated by him?) nine for 129 in Sri Lanka's first knock at Colombo in mid-2018.

Yet Maharaj has usually still managed to keep a pretty good lid on things from an economy point of view, and perhaps a bit more confidence needs to be placed again into his attack-minded guile and variation in the Friendly City after he lapsed - presumably under orders to a good degree - into an arguably too defensive, plant-it-in-the-rough mode from over the wicket against the English at Newlands.

He also had no benefit of a solid period in first-class cricket ahead of the current series, the T20 Mzansi Super League occupying an inconveniently lopsided chunk of the few weeks before Joe Root's team arrived here.

Of the 18 Tests played at St George's Park in the post-isolation period - beginning with the near-funereal first in 1992/93 when SA fielded Omar Henry and India enjoyed the services of both Anil Kumble and Venkatapathy Raju - only four have shown instances where at least one of the teams involved have seen fit to go in without a specialist slow bowler at all.

Only once has the policy borne the satisfying fruit of a win for the side in question, too: in 2013/14, when the Proteas beat Australia (helped by some magical bursts of reverse swing from a Dale Steyn-led attack) with a pace arsenal of Steyn, Philander, Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell, with only part-time tweaking help from Dean Elgar and JP Duminy.

South Africa came a cropper to England at St George's in 2004/05 when their one-dimensional seam attack was Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, a rookie Steyn, Andrew Hall and Zander de Bruyn, as did West Indies in 1998/99 when they tried an all-speed battery of Messrs Ambrose, Walsh, Dillon and McLean.

The home nation did earn a draw there with England in 1999/2000, despite again snubbing a spinner: while the tourists fielded Phil Tufnell for variety to their own plans, the SA bowling line-up was Donald, Pollock, Hayward, Klusener and Kallis.

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