To fly at this World Cup, we need superstars in the wings
And we've got them: Aiden Markram, Chris Morris, Dwaine Pretorius and Tabraiz Shamsi are raring to go
It says something that you have a World Cup winner and a million-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) player on your bench. But what, exactly, does it say?
That your first XI is strong, that you have plenty of depth, or that you’re wasting talent, skill and experience?
SA could do worse than answer those questions before they meet England in the World Cup opener at the Oval next Thursday. Their opportunities to do so will come in warm-up games against Sri Lanka in Cardiff on Friday and West Indies in Bristol on Sunday.
Aiden Markram captained SA to their only World Cup triumph so far – in the under-19 version in the United Arab Emirates in 2014. Even though he has all but dismissed that success because it was achieved in what he called a “happy go lucky” environment, the reality of SA’s experience in tournaments lends it extra relevance. Thing is, where do you put Markram on the team sheet Faf du Plessis will hand over at the toss at the Oval in a few days’ time?
Having committed themselves to picking Hashim Amla, SA can’t not choose him to open the innings in so big a game and at the ground where he scored 311 not out in 2012.
Markram also can’t expect to crack the nod ahead of Rassie van der Dussen, who has scored half-centuries in half his eight one-day internationals and, in his last six innings for the Lions in the T20 competition, scored four 50s and been not out three times.
The solid start Markram has made to his Test career – four centuries and an average of 43.80 – has not been mirrored in ODIs, where has has two 50s and an average of 29.58. His quality is not in doubt, but his form isn’t doing it justice. Happily, he has had the maturity to recognise that he wasn’t an automatic selection in the squad.
Something similar goes for Chris Morris, who fetched $1m at the 2013 IPL auction but is in SA’s squad only because Anrich Nortjé broke a thumb in the nets. How Morris might get a game considering he’s up against Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi, is difficult to see. He has significant batting ability, but so does first-choice allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo – who offers the kind of silky skills as a medium pacer that SA’s other seamers do not.
So expect to see Markram and Morris on SA’s bench, where they are likely to be joined by Dwaine Pretorius and Tabraiz Shamsi. Before Nortjé’s withdrawal Pretorius’s only rival was Phehlukwayo. Now he has probably slipped behind Morris in the pecking order.
Shamsi faces an even tougher route into the team. Not only is Imran Tahir SA’s top-ranked ODI bowler going into the World Cup, he is also freshly back from topping the wicket-taking charts at the IPL.
Perhaps, as the tournament wears on through what is expected to be a hot, dry month and more in England, SA will deploy two spinners. But no doubt they will revert to type and put their faith in pace in crunch games at every stage of the tournament, which wouldn’t leave room for more than one slow bowler.
The good news for players on the bench is that World Cups are about far more than what happens on the field. Instead they morph into autonomous organisms in which teams live in bubbles and struggle to keep a firm enough grip on reality. It’s up to the reserves to make sure that happens.
Markram, Morris, Pretorius and Shamsi have 152 caps’ worth of international experience between them, and plenty of humour and canny thinking on the game to pull their weight in a squad that will need their contribution as much as Amla’s calm and Rabada’s threat.They’re qualified for the job, on the field and off.