JOHANNESBURG, April 18 – Veteran opening batsman Hashim Amla was named in South Africa’s Cricket World Cup squad which was announced on Thursday.
While the Highveld Lions’ Reeza Hendricks must be the most devastated man in the country after being left out of the squad, his omission didn’t take former Proteas’ left-arm spinner Paul Harris by surprise.
“The big call was on Hash [Hashim Amla] or Reeza [Hendricks] and Reeza didn’t quite get there, did he?
“He didn’t quite do enough to nail down that place.”
“I don’t think you can leave someone of Hash’s class out, so I think the selectors got it pretty much spot-on there. My only other change – and I’ve been very vocal about this – is that I would have picked Chris Morris rather than Dwaine Pretorius, but that wasn’t to be.”
“I was also very happy to see them picking Aiden Markram because he’s got X-factor and you just can’t leave him out. He’s playing county cricket [at Hampshire] over there at the moment to acclimatise himself and he’s the one player in the South African upper order perhaps with Quinnie de Kock who can just wrestle the game away from the opposition, so that’s pleasing.”
Cricket South Africa (CSA) president, Chris Nenzani, didn’t announce the Proteas World Cup squad, so much as have it announced on a screen at SuperSport’s Randburg studios behind him.
The announcement didn’t unfold in alphabetical order at about 1:20pm, so there were some butterflies both from those selected whose names didn’t come up immediately and the cricket-loving public at large. In the end, though, it was a conservative and deserved squad, with consistency over the last 12-18 months being rewarded.
Indeed, at the end of a season of debates about the likely 15, the selectors pulled precious few rabbits out of the hat. There were some marginal selections, notably Tabraiz Shamsi, Anrich Nortje and, possibly, Rassie van der Dussen, but in no way were any of the three surprises because all three have done enough to more than warrant a place.
All in all, it was also no surprise that selection convenor, Linda Zondi, and his panel, have picked a side strong on bowlers, with four fast-bowlers (Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Nortje) combining with three all-rounders (JP Duminy, Andile Phehlukwayo and Pretorius) and two spinners in the evergreen “smoothie operator” Imran Tahir (Tahir lives on smoothies) and Shamsi.
“Faf has said all along that he doesn’t want to be chasing 350-plus, he wants to be chasing 250-260-280,” said Harris. “And I think that we’ve got the side to be able to bowl teams out.”
“This does, though, put a lot of pressure on the top five or six. I think we can definitely bowl good sides out but if we’re to win this tournament we’re also going to have a batter there who is winning us matches and is possibly even winning Man of the Tournament.”
In a reversion to the tournament format that was last used in 1992 in Australasia, Harris sees “consistency” trumping everything else in the round-robin phase. A good win in the tournament opener against England at the Oval on May 30, he says, will set the Proteas up nicely.
“A great showing first up, putting our peg in the sand, that will be great,” he says. “If we can beat the home team that will go a long way to showing what we can do and establishing early momentum.”
This said, Harris is more than aware that this World Cup is closer to a marathon than a sprint. “There’s going to be variation in conditions across England as the tournament progresses,” he says. “Weather will play an issue, so you’re always going to have to keep an eye on run-rates.
“Pitches can vary up and down the country as well, so it can swing up in the north and things can be a bit more batsman-friendly in the south, so we’re going to have to keep an eye on those types of things too.”
In more general terms, Harris is excited by the openness of this year’s World Cup. “It’s a wide open World Cup,” he says. “For as long as I can remember it’s been Australia, Australia, Australia, with perhaps a little bit of India in-between.
“Now you’ve got the West Indies in contention if they get their T20 champions into the squad, and don’t discount New Zealand, they’re always there or thereabouts. They’ve got some accomplished swing bowlers and they’re always competitive. That makes for a great competition.”
Harris’ ideal side for the opener against England would be Amla and De Kock opening, with skipper Du Plessis at three followed by Markram. “There’s a bit of a debate there with Van der Dussen but Aiden just has that command, so he’d be my number four, followed by Duminy and Miller, with Phehlukwayo in the all-rounder role at seven.”
After that Harris would plump for Steyn, Rabada, Ngidi and Tahir in that order. Back up roles would be provided, therefore, by Pretorius (back-up all-rounder), Shamsi (back-up spinner), Nortje (back-up quick bowler) and Van der Dussen as the back-up batter.
With such a long tournament, though, and everyone will get their chance as the Proteas do some judicious experimentation as June blends into July and they hopefully find themselves in the business end of the tournament.
The 15-man squad is:
Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Rassie van der Dussen