One of India’s pre-eminent cricket writers damned the Proteas bowling tactics with faint praise after two matches at the World T20 when he described their approach as “endearing” because it belonged in a different era to the one in which the game was being played at the moment.
“Full and straight fast bowling,” he said, meant “they can book their flight back home right now.” Apart from Imran Tahir and a couple of overs from J-P Duminy, South Africa have served up a banquet of deliveries from right arm seamers allowing both England and Afghanistan to make merry on a Wankhede Stadium pitch offering them no assistance.
To be fair, coach Russell Domingo and captain Faf du Plessis are limited by the tools at their disposal, which means they have only the gentle, unthreatening medium pace of Farhaan Behardienand the left arm spin of Aaron Phangiso to call upon for variety.
Behardien may well be called upon in any case if Duminy fails to recover from a hamstring injury but it is the decision on whether to use Phangiso which will be most closely watched. Doubts and worries about whether his remodelled action will stand up to scrutiny under pressure may be legitimate, but when the decision was made to include him in the squad, the decision to play him was also made. Or should have been.
Every bowler represents a gamble in T20 cricket. South Africa’s instinct has always been to stick with ‘traditional’ strengths. Spin is not one of them. Now is the time to question that approach and, to his great credit, Du Plessis insisted that would be the case when the team arrive in Nagpur for their next game against West Indies.
“We didn’t think the Mumbai pitch suited Dale so we included David Wiese because he bowls more variations and takes the pace off the ball. We are a team that will make selections based on the pitches that we play on,” he said. “We move from here to Nagpur which will be different so the thinking will change again. We have to be able to adapt to the conditions as a team. The wicket in Nagpur has been turning quite a bit so we will have to make those decisions there.”
There is a strong perception in India that the Proteas are a long way behind the leading teams in strategic thinking and planning. But perhaps that perception will be changed. Two frontline spinners are a prerequisite in Nagpur. If Phangiso is in India purely as back-up to Tahir, then the campaign may be doomed.
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