Cape Town – Political delicacy or downright intrigueroutinely stalks South African cricket ... expect few changes on that front whenthe Proteas’ selectors reveal their difficult hand on Wednesday for the ICCWorld Twenty20
Transformation is an unashamedly aggressive feature ofCricket South Africa’s policy, and while Linda Zondi’s panel have to balancethe needs of batting, bowling and all-round requirements for the Indian-stagedtournament in March, it is not as “simple” as that.
The 15-strong squad will also have to be deemed sufficientlyrepresentative in the boardroom, which inevitably only increases the complexityof the task.
In theory, CSA transformation is most vigorously pursued atfranchise level, where this season the statutory requirement across thehalf-dozen domestic teams has been a minimum of six players of colour, andthree of them black African.
A greater element of “merit” is supposedly allowed in picks atsenior national level, although even there an undisclosed squad tally cut-offrecommendation or stipulation will apply, you can be sure.
The last time South Africa played a major ICC limited-overs tournament,the 2015 World Cup, their 15-man squad featured seven players of colour, but itso happens that at least three of those have subsequently faded from the frontlines of combat for varying reasons.
Bowling all-rounder Vernon Philander has been laid low sinceearly November with a major ankle injury that has almost certainly ended hisentire season, Wayne Parnell has battled a combination of both injury andmoderate form, and Aaron Phangiso – who controversially did not even get a gameat CWC 2015 – blotted his copybook with an alcohol-related disciplinaryindiscretion and deterioration of domestic fortunes in 2015/16 with hisleft-arm spin.
In the last few months, Dolphins batsman and off-spinnerKhaya Zondo has also earned a national limited-overs squad call-up (when theProteas toured India) but he was not blooded and since then his franchisesummer has been wretched.
The goal of the CSA hierarchy must surely be to see more,rather than fewer, players of colour coming to the fore for the Proteas, whoreached the semi-finals of the last World T20 in 2014 when their squadcontained as many as eight players of colour, but it so happens that just atpresent it is difficult to justify on pure cricket form or fitness-relatedavailability any more than five or six who tick that box travelling to Indiasoon.
I suspect there is every chance of an outcry over themake-up of the imminent squad, either because a pro-transformation lobby willbe concerned over a decline in numbers of players from previously disadvantagedbackgrounds, or from some enthusiasts bemoaning the perceived cold-shoulderingof merit if some white players with strong recent statistics fail to make thecut as transformation principles are instead vigorously adhered to.
If Zondi’s panel do manage to somehow strike a happy “middleground” between the requirements that have faced them in this instance, theyhave done exceedingly well.
In general, they will probably have tried to use most recentT20 squad composition as a key guideline in their selections.
Remember that the Proteas come off very hearteningsuccessive 2-0 victories in Subcontinent conditions – against first Bangladeshand then India.
Using the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory, thenthese 13 players who took part in the notable Indian success should revisitthat very land for the global event: Faf du Plessis (capt), Kyle Abbott, HashimAmla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, ImranTahir, Eddie Leie, David Miller, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Albie Morkel.
The aforementioned but since labouring Zondo, as well asslingshot paceman Marchant de Lange were the remaining members of the party,but will almost certainly not make the World T20 cut.
For one thing, South Africa will wish to reinstate long-timefrontline strike bowlers Dale Steyn (though admittedly his readiness remainsunder a worrying cloud) and Morne Morkel, both of whom were rested from theIndian T20s in advance of the Test series.
They also had to withdraw all-rounder David Wiese from theirsquad at the time (broken hand), although the lanky Titans man is fit again andmay well be vying for one berth with franchise-mate Albie Morkel – racingagainst time to get over a back problem – for the World T20 squad.
Rightly or wrongly, I think there is a risk that thebig-hitting Miller is not going to fit into the squad jigsaw, perhaps partly ongrounds that are not all purely cricket-related.
Then again, Miller has not yet managed a half-century in 37T20 internationals, and he may be viewed to be competing with Rilee Rossouw fora spot as a “gun” left-hander in the middle order.
At the time of writing, a resurgent Beuran Hendricks, thehugely talented 25-year-old from the Cape Cobras, was mounting a late quest fornational recall after a catalogue of injuries; he would bring precious left-armpace variety but may have to wait a tad longer to get back into the top-flightfray.
Predicted SA squad:Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy,Farhaan Behardien, David Miller (or Rilee Rossouw), Albie Morkel (or DavidWiese), Chris Morris, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott,Eddie Leie, Imran Tahir.
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