Pressure on seniors as South Africa search for balance

World T20 2016 February 10, 2016

By leaving out the Morkels, who boast a wealth of experience in Indian conditions, and packing their World T20 side with allrounders, South Africa’s selectors may have overburdened their senior core group

South Africa have left Morne Morkel and his brother Albie, both of whom have considerable IPL experience, out of their World T20 squad © Getty Images

For the first time in recent memory, South Africa will not go to a global tournament as one of the favourites. Even though they have won back-to-back T20 series in the subcontinent, they are fumbling through a summer of discontent that has been headlined by successive Test series defeats. They will travel to the scene of the first of those humblings without the expectation that has burdened them in the past.

In fact, it has almost swung completely the other way. There is a sense that the team is expected not to do well. At least that is the way a South African public that does not deal well with disappointment sees it. They could change their minds if South Africa pull off a few wins in their T20 series against England and Australia, but it won’t stop the questions.

Chief among them is whether Dale Steyn will really be fit. South Africa have been wondering this since November when Steyn suffered a groin strain in the first Test against India in Mohali. Then, rumour had it that he tried too hard to get himself back to full fitness to play in AB de Villiers’ 100th Test that the injury worsened to the extent that he could not play in the rest of the series. Another rumour had it that because he didn’t bowl for all that time, the workload caused a shoulder injury when he was finally back on the park seven weeks later, for the Boxing Day Test against England. He has spent his 2016 trying to recover from that.

Steyn is targeting the three T20s against Australia at the beginning of March to make his return and will only travel to the World T20 if he gets through those. If he doesn’t…

If he doesn’t, South Africa should make a tough decision, unlike what they did when Quinton de Kock was rushed back from injury for the 2015 World Cup, and leave Steyn at home. They have Morne Morkel as back-up anyway.

As things stand, Morkel is not going to the tournament after missing the T20s in both Bangladesh and India and falling out of South Africa’s shortest-format plans. If that seems harsh, it’s because it is. Morkel has tightened up his game and has become something of a strangler who produces the occasional match-winning spell, particularly at the IPL.

As does his brother, Albie, an IPL veteran whose experience and familiarity with the conditions on the subcontinent should have seen him picked. Albie has played more IPL matches than any South African apart from AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis and he was looking good for a more regular international spot.

Albie made a return to the South African side during their India series and celebrated it with his 50th T20I appearance and a career-best bowling performance, but was then mysteriously left out of the World T20 squad. Instead, the selectors have opted for other allrounders in Chris Morris and David Wiese. How they use them will be crucial to South Africa’s success.

Packing the side with two-in-one players is one thing, ensuring there are still enough specialists as well is completely another.

In their search to create a team around a player in the Kallis mode, South Africa have become obsessed with two-in-ones. They have turned JP Duminy from a batsmen into a batsman who can bowl and sometimes a bowler who can’t bat. Farhaan Behardien is going the same way.

By diluting talent, South Africa force themselves to rely even more heavily on those who only do one job like Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Imran Tahir. At least now that senior core has a second wave. Kagiso Rabada is the most promising player to emerge since Quinton de Kock and they are both in the squad. The trick will be to ensure they are not overburdened, which is why du Plessis has asked the senior players, the same ones who have not been able to see South Africa to success in recent months, to step up.

“It’s very important that the senior players step up,” he said. “You don’t want to rely too much on your younger players. You want them to feel free and play with the pressure off their shoulders. A lot is going to be on the senior guys’ shoulders.”

Immediately, that creates the kind of pressure South Africa were hoping to escape. In almost the same breath, du Plessis tried to take if off them by saying, “Our back-up is going to be just as strong so we don’t rely on one or two players.” And then put it back on with, “This is the strongest squad we have taken to a World Cup.”

Just a brief glance at the list of names suggests that it actually isn’t. Even if South Africa have individual greats like de Villiers and Steyn, they have balance issues. What they are hoping is that in a format that is a rollercoaster, success can come even if their XI sometimes looks a little skewed.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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