An all-round vexing question: who is SA’s best ODI No 7?
A competent No 7 is crucial to SA’s World Cup cause. Who he might be is more complicated
There have been nine in the 69 one-day internationals SA have played since the 2015 World Cup. In 2016 there were six, four a year later, last year five. This year? One.
They are the men who have batted at No 7 for SA since the last World Cup – and it’s a slot that, to take Ottis Gibson at his word, remains vacant heading into this year’s tournament in England from May to July.
No 7s tend to be bowlers who bat well enough to considered white-ball allrounders, but that doesn’t describe all of the nine who have done the job for SA since the previous World Cup. They are, in order of their first appearance in the position in the past four years, Farhaan Behardien, David Wiese, Chris Morris, Dean Elgar (once), Wayne Parnell, Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Wiaan Mulder and JP Duminy (also once).
SA have won 42 of those 69 ODIs, and 28 times when their No 7 has batted they have needed him to get them over the line for two-thirds of their successes. They have chased for 10 of those victories.
SA have won by five wickets – when the buck has stopped with their No 7 – five times, and another four times when they have been five down at the end of their innings batting first. They have won five of the seven games in which their No 7 has been batting at the end of the match, and all four times they have batted first and lost five wickets.
That’s more than enough evidence for SA to know what they know already: a competent No 7 is crucial to their World Cup cause. Who he might be is more complicated, even though only five of SA’s No 7s since the 2015 World Cup remain viable candidates.
Of the surviving four, Morris has been that man 14 times – significantly more than Phehlukwayo, Duminy, Pretorius or Mulder.
Phehlukwayo averages 29.40 at No 7 (none of the other three are in the 20s) and Pretorius has the best bowling average and economy rate among the four: 26.75 and 4.77.
In seven of the 18 ODIs in which SA have lost five or more wickets since the start of last year, their No 7 has been Phehlukwayo. They’ve won and lost nine each of those games. Four of the victories have been achieved with Phehlukwayo in the No 7 saddle, as have four of the losses. Mulder has been there for three other wins and Morris for three other losses.
Those are the tangibles, and they’re useful in matters like these. But Gibson and the selectors will look beyond the numbers.
Morris offers the purest fast bowling talent, skill and experience, Duminy comes with the not insignificant attributes of decent-ish offspin and 192 ODI caps, and Pretorius and Mulder are among the most exciting members of the emerging generation of high quality SA players.
And then there’s Phehlukwayo.
“You learn to take responsibility and ownership,” Phehlukwayo said after not batting but taking 3/36 to help SA beat Pakistan by seven runs and clinch the T20 series at the Wanderers on Sunday.
“Every player wants to win big moments. It won’t always go your way, but the more often that you are in those situations you’ll hopefully get it right more often.
“The [difference between] the player I was three years ago and the player I am now is [because of] a lot of mental stuff. The ability to perform is still there. Hopefully I can still grow and become better and [put in] consistent performances. That’s all I can control.”
Amazingly, given all that maturity, Phehlukwayo is only 22, a dozen years younger than Duminy.
There’s an unusual calm to what he does on the field, as if he will not be shaken from the belief that the advantages of what he wants to achieve far outweigh the risks of trying to achieve it.
You can’t say that about many of SA’s players, and it should earn him the No 7 spot at the World Cup.