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Proteas Debrief: T20 Series & Looking Ahead to T20 World Cup

Proteas Debrief: T20 Series & Looking Ahead to T20 World Cup. Tim Lace reviews the recent T20 series and looks ahead the Proteas squad.

While the T20 series against England was destined to be a difficult one it was still a chance for them to show how close or how far they are from one of the favourites for the World Cup next year. There were a few fleeting good moments like Faf Du Plessis back to form, Quinton de Kock also in form albeit intoo short innings. That said the gap between SA and England right now is rather large.

Many questions are still unanswered including what the makeup of the best middle order in the batting line up. The Proteas have played 12 T20s in the last 14 months (including the one just played) against arguably the best three teams in the world, India, Australia and England twice and unsurprisingly come up short in three of the four series managing a draw in India in September of last year.

This latest series was both an entertaining and frustrating one in equal measure despite the results. South Africa could have won all three and probably should have won the first two.

The T20 Series

Things started fairly well in the first game when South Africa posted 179/6 with solid performances by Faf Du Plessis who made 58 and late order hitting by Klaasen with 20 off 12. For much of England’s chase the total looked enough. However, a nine-ball over by Beuran Hendricks, which went for 28 when England still needed 55 off 25 balls. Poor bowling would become a theme running throughout the series and the unavailability of Phehlukwayo and Pretorius throughout the series was felt significantly. England were behind in the first three five over periods in the first T20 and really should have lost especially England had lost three wickets in the opening power play. England won fairly easily and Morgan described his team’s performance as average after the match, which it was.

The 2nd T20 was the closest of the series and the one where SA’s missing all-rounders Phehlukwayo and Pretorius were missed the most on a slow pitch. Once again Quinton De Kock lost the toss and was put in first. South Africa reached 146/6 with decent but short cameos by Quinton De Kock and George Linde at the back end of the innings. With the score on the board and Roy and Buttler both removed for a combined 36, it looked like the Proteas might sneak the win. South Africa was again ahead of England at the first three five over period except for the last one. When Malan and Morgan were taking charge SA’s bowlers were unable to stick to a plan of any kind as they lost their way. Annoyingly Quinton De Kock who was keeping behind the stumps and moved two steps to the left where Morgan would have nicked it straight to him if he had stood still with the game in the balance. England did something SA didn’t do all series, paced their innings beautifully.

The 3rd T20 when the series was already over was a run fest. SA finally won a toss and despite a slow start as they found themselves 66/3 after 10 got to 191/3 in the end. England bowlers Rashid and Stokes aside bowled very poorly. Reeza Hendricks should have been run out on 0 and was dropped on two but didn’t last long. Du Plessis again was impressive with the bat and Rassie Van Der Dussen likewise. 191 should have been enough when England were so sub-standard in the field. But SA were equally poor with the ball if not worse and Quinton De Kock poor series got worse with an appalling piece of keeping when Malan on 37. He should have been run out by half a pitch but de Kock dropped the ball after brilliant fielding by Bavuma.

Looking Ahead to the T20 World Cup

By all accounts our opening partnership to India for the World Cup will be Quinton De Kock and Temba Bavuma, both have solid numbers and strike rates behind them, despite a substandard series. They both looked in form before finding ways of getting themselves out. What does worry me though is the captaincy of De Kock, he does need to step up in this regard and respond differently towards his bowlers when they are under the pump. An arm round the bowler can go a long way when they are struggling.

What happens beyond the opening positions when it comes to the batting is very unsure. Reeza Hendricks was given nothing more than a poisoned chalice when told to bat at three. Reeza has always been and will always be an opener, and SA’s insistence on the current opener’s means Reeza best chance to make the squad will be as back up opener. Du Plessis has played most of his T20 career at three and did that in the first game of the series as he made 58 off 40 balls. Why he moved down to four I am not sure. If this side wants to have any chance at next year’s World Cup it needs the experienced players to step up. He simply has to be back at three. England plays its best batsmen at three and so should the Proteas.

The middle-order is where things get tricky, Rassie VD Dussen at four could be problematic, as he chalks up too many dot balls when the innings needs to be taken to the next level. His numbers for this series, while impressive, it is largely down to one innings in a T20 when the series was already over. Heinrich Klaasen could be the ideal number four, has all the shots in the game and a strike rate of over 150. Strike rates are more important in T20s than averages and his cameo in the first T20 was impressive. Pite Van Biljon, unfortunately, didn’t get a proper chance to show his talent and it seems he may not make that WC squad.

That said, it is important to remember he has scored more runs and at a better strike rate than anyone else in the two seasons of the MSL, batting at five of six. Perhaps this is where Rassie Van Der Dussen can find a place sandwiched in the middle as those above him and below him can score at a higher strike rate. George Linde at six seems ideal with a free rein to score quickly, just as he did in the 2nd T20 at Paarl, when everyone else struggled to score at a decent rate. He finished the series with a strike rate over 150 and has experienced playing in India where he did well for SA and SA ‘A’ which will certainly help his cause to make the World Cup squad. Another quality he has is he seems to have big match temperament.

The bowlers should be easier to select and in terms of personal it certainly is, but the quality of the bowling is of much concern. Rabada and Nortje, who were outstanding in this year’s IPL, but the fact they finished the series with averages of 57 and 58 is a worry. Behind them, Beuran Hendricks and Lutho Sipamla also had series they would like to forget, and while the former does still have a good T20 record overall. In particular, he had an impressive season the last time he was in the IPL and with the national side in India in 2015, that was five years ago. He will be hoping the selectors will be reminded of that record when selection for the World Cup comes round.

Lutho Sipamla looked like someone who hasn’t played any form of cricket in months (true of course) but he will have to improve if he wants to be on that plane. SA missed the skills of Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo in this series but you would imagine they will both be on that plane providing they are fit.

The spinners section George Linde aside after an excellent series is still in the balance and assuming Imran Tahir gets picked as he is available for the World Cup, I would say there is only one position left. Tabraiz Shamsi bowled liked a dream in the 2nd T20 with guile and persistence but either side of that he looked like a man very much unsure of his place in the side or the line he should be bowling. This is understandable against such a quality opposition but a concern nonetheless. That third spot seems to be a shootout between Shamsi, Fortuin and Maharaj. Still a while to go but the door on T20 World Cup selection is closing.

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