It’s never nice to hear that a player has been ruled out on the eve of a World Cup tournament due to injury, but the outcome of the Proteas’ latest setback has actually given me some form of hope.
I really feel for Anrich Nortje, who had to withdraw from the 15-man squad after breaking a thumb during a freak accident at training. He was in the right place at the right time after Morne Morkel’s retirement and Duanne Olivier’s Kolpak move and deserved to be included as an additional seamer in the final squad.
But having said that, much like the rest of the UK-bound pace battery, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, and you can throw spinners Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi into the mix too, wielding the willow isn’t Nortje’s forte.
If the Proteas field six batsmen, of which one is Quinton de Kock, with an all-rounder in Andile Phehlukwayo at No 7, there will in all likelihood be three specialist seamers and a spinner or two seamers and two spinners sharing the 50 overs with Phehlukwayo and maybe a few from part-time spinners JP Duminy and Aiden Markram.
That means the Proteas’ tail would start at No 8, which is very long. And if we then lose the top six cheaply and Phehlukwayo gets impatient as he so often does having to hang around with the tail, the writing will really be on the wall. To be fair, Steyn and Rabada can hold a bat, but they are not finishers in any sense.
If you look at other teams, it seems like most of them have bowlers batting at No 8 capable of a few lusty blows to contribute the odd 32 off 12 balls to win a match or bloat the total.
Think of players like New Zealand’s Tim Southee and Matt Henry, England’s Chris Woakes, Australian Nathan Coulter-Nile, the West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite and Hasan Ali of Pakistan.
The Proteas’ other all-rounder option Dwaine Pretorius fits the bill if you play him as a front line seamer sending down 10 overs, but he also hasn’t had quite enough opportunities in international cricket to showcase his talents as a match-winner like he’s done at franchise level.
Enter Chris Morris, who was named as the replacement for Nortje this week. He is a proven match-winner with the bat in both one-day and T20 cricket for the Proteas. And I will feel much more confident in knowing that Morris and one of the other two all-rounders can occupy the No 7 and No 8 positions in the batting line-up instead of that potentially outlandish long tail.
And although the general consensus of Morris is that he is too expensive with the ball, his economy rate of 5.61 runs to the over is in actual fact better than Phehlukwayo’s 5.62, although higher than Pretorius’ 4.88. But with the bat his strike rate of 97.27 is better than both Pretorius (94.96) and Phehlukwayo (91.62).
Come to think about it, why wasn’t Morris included in the squad in the first place?