Bowling coach Allan Donald was quoted as saying this week “I’d rather not have that many yorkers at the back end … at the World Cup, we want to be unpredictable in the last 10 overs and that is not going to be about bowling 40 yorkers in the last 10 overs.”
Not bowling yorkers is also becoming predictable, however, for this attack.
While the South African bowlers were generally dominant against the eighth-ranked West Indies – and let’s be honest, their batting was largely woeful – it was alarming to see how exposed the Proteas were once again in the death overs when Andre Russell, Darren Sammy and the tail took the tourists to an unlikely victory in the fourth ODI in Port Elizabeth.
The West Indies top-order was barely a factor through the series, meaning they were under pressure every time they batted; how will South Africa’s attack fare against much stronger batting line-ups at the World Cup, especially if the pitches are flat, without the luxury of early wickets?
Kyle Abbott was particularly disappointing in the series – taking just two wickets for 121 runs, conceded at a rate of 7.33 per over. It was depressing to see someone who had previously shown such skill in finding the blockhole, banging the ball in short and getting regularly smashed – perhaps Donald’s comments have something to do with that? There was surely a message in the second of those Abbott wickets coming from a full, straight delivery that bowled Marlon Samuels at Centurion.
Lady Luck has not been kind to South Africa in previous World Cups, but she tends to favour teams that are tactically astute, hard-working and gifted. The Proteas are certainly dedicated to their craft and in terms of talent we only need to mention AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn, so no issues there.
But while the batting looks so powerful – Rilee Rossouw adding his name into the mix of potential match-winners – their bowling remains vulnerable due to the current strategic thinking and I have a feeling opposing teams will back themselves to chase down whatever target South Africa set by putting them under pressure in the field.
The balance of the team – without a genuine all-rounder – is out, so JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien have to share 10 overs or someone like Vernon Philander or Wayne Parnell has to bat seven.
That fifth-bowler portion will certainly be targeted by the opposition and sides like India and Australia will probably have a go at Morne Morkel and Philander as well.
Immersed in the pressure of a knockout game, how cool can Morkel stay? His display under the pump in Port Elizabeth suggests the portents are not that good, while Philander, at no more than fast-medium pace and generally sticking to line-and-length, could also be vulnerable.
The positives, however, are that South Africa, with Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir, are better than most at taking wickets in the middle overs and there will be no more feared batting line-up at the World Cup.
The bookies are hawking odds of between 3/1 and 13/3 on South Africa winning the World Cup, but they are only second favourites behind Australia – who range from 2/1 to 13/4 to win their fifth title.
There are a million different scenarios that could play out – and South Africa have historically provided the weirdest of those – but I will be hugely frustrated if the Proteas post 350-8 in a semi-final and then lose by three wickets in the final over as Duminy/Behardien travel for 90 runs in their 10 combined overs and Morkel and Philander concede 75 each.
Ryan McLaren or David Wiese are not part of the squad to provide a genuine fifth bowling option and from what we’ve seen from the West Indies series, South Africa are not going to be able to stray too far from their first-choice attack.
Which is not entirely a bad thing. Barring the number seven position, South Africa are a settled combination, going to Australasia with confidence and not many teams will fancy taking them on.