Cricketing purists still perceive the T20 format as nothing more than candy floss, an argument that holds more water when it comes to international level, where it’s overshadowed by events such as the IPL and Big Bash.
Yet when the Proteas take on England in a three-match series starting in East London on Wednesday, there’s quite a lot at stake.
This is, after all, a year when the World T20 will take place in Australia, meaning there’s an elusive world trophy up for grabs.
South Africa’s planning for the trip to Australia begins in earnest with an experimental squad that needs to answer a few selection questions.
These are the roles under the microscope.
AN OPENING PARTNER FOR QUINNY
Relevant candidates: Reeza Hendricks, Temba Bavuma, Jon-Jon Smuts
Temba Bavuma. (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images)
Quinton de Kock is now undoubtedly the mainstay of the Proteas’ batting order in all three formats.
He’s the stroke-maker that provides poise, direction and momentum to any batting effort, but finding a partner who can support him remains elusive.
Reeza Hendricks has been a decent performer in the T20 format, while Temba Bavuma has reinvented himself as a more nudgy but still fluent batsman in the shortest form.
Given how an opening slot will allow him a maximum time to settle at the crease and that he clearly enjoys batting with De Kock, Bavuma seems an attractive option.
The trump card here is Jon-Jon Smuts, a man with a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in domestic T20 cricket and the added bonus as a frontline left-arm spinner.
But his technique will need to survive some scrutiny.
THE MIDDLE ORDER BLASTER
Relevant candidates: David Miller, Rassie van der Dussen, Heinrich Klaasen, Pite van Biljon
Pite van Biljon. (Photo by EJ Langner/Gallo Images)
One is reluctant to place the admirable Rassie van der Dussen in this category as his role in the national team is far more versatile than just the smasher at the death.
He’s expected to come in to stabilise, or build and hit out in the dying stages.
What the Proteas need is a man who can come in with five overs remaining and transform a game through attacking innings that nudge eventual totals from good to almost insurmountable.
David Miller is undoubtedly gifted and has crafted some match-winning knocks yet his inconsistency remains a problem, while Heinrich Klaasen’s international career has stalled after a promising start in early 2018.
Stalwart Knights skipper Pite van Biljon is a rookie at this level, though he’s surprised quite a few opposition teams with his dynamic cameos in the Mzansi Super League.
He’s an unknown factor who could bank on that advantage.
Relevant candidates: Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius
Andile Phehlukwayo. (Photo by Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)
The brief here is clear: the Proteas want men who can do anything De Kock needs from them.
Score some quick runs at the death; bowl tightly at the death without much of a previous warmup; bowl a full four-over quota; get promoted up the order for a substantial score.
Last year, Dwaine Pretorius made the highest T20 score of his career and booked himself a ticket to the World Cup.
Yet there’s a sense that Andile Phehlukwayo, with his uncanny ability to make things happen, is the type of X-factor player that needs to be backed.
STRIKE PARTNER(S) FOR KAGISO RABADA
Relevant candidates: Lungi Ngidi, Beuran Hendricks, Dale Steyn
Lungi Ngidi. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
He’s being rested, but you can bet top dollar that Kagiso Rabada will be the Proteas’ bowling spearhead in Australia.
So it’s really a case now of finding one or two lieutenants to support him.
Lungi Ngidi’s fitness issues can’t hide his obvious wicket-taking ability, while Beuran Hendricks’ left-arm seamers provide inherent variety.
However, the sheer class and experience of Dale Steyn still presents South Africa with the best opportunity to claim a trophy, especially as he continues to perform well.
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